Rodney's Reviews > This Can't Be Life

This Can't Be Life by Dana Ward
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's review
Feb 25, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: poetry

“Brittle as cinders”: That’s a phrase I just found in Stephen Rodefer’s VILLON and instantly applied to Ward’s This Can’t Be Life, which I’m tangled in the glittery hoops of right now. Three sections of the book—“Roseland,” The Squeakquel, and 2010’s totally bravura Typing ‘Wild Speech’—appeared earlier as chapbooks, so if you’re a friend or fan of Dana’s (the self-exposure and conversational address of his work blurs the line between the two) there are some welcome anchor points.

The beautiful surface of the writing in the chapbooks—the fearlessness about aiming to be beautiful—extends throughout the full-length collection. Ward’s image hoard is one of gold, silver, fluidity, liquefaction, summer, twilight, glitter, carousels and slumber, a floating world of affect and glamour grounded firmly in an everyday life full of friends, partners, jobs, conversations, emails, smoke breaks, and political desires, and annealed with a sharp, subtly tragic sense of the darkness the aesthetic holds at bay.

What comes clearer reading the chapbooks all together, and interleaved with the other poems/prose/letters/journal entries (more blurring), are the delicate structures of inquiry and concern that Ward builds up over time. His writings divigate, pivot, carom, swerve, volute, twist, and loop from topic to topic—from “twilight’s newer gears” to “Speaking of Twilight, the movie I mean, have you seen it?”—in a way that feels casual, conversational, improvisatory, even slapdash, but that grows over time, within and across poems, into cindery armatures that threaten to collapse any instant, poetry into prose, idea into aside, thought into reverie, plan into décor, until, with a final set of twists, you’re surprised with a completed poem, the turns closed up into a perfect lemniscate.

Ward seems deeply aware of his own process—“O the badly managed metaphors are everywhere!”—and inures you to it with a disarming abjection, revealing his “gynecomastadons” or fumbling ways with sushi or moments of artistic humiliation in a manner that’s affecting and generous, but also central to his poetic: “the language of daily life drenched in intimate affect which itself is soaked in unchecked mediation.” Consider the twist in that—affect spun with mediation—or take it a little straighter:

“well, Hell.
I couldn’t tell you any other fucking way.”

However you take it, it’s worth read after read.
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