You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake

You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake by Anna Moschovakis

Reviewed By

Because it’s a pleasure to think about the significance of the word “approach” in Anna Moschovakis’s new book You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake. Because it is. Because approaching a lake is a strange thing, especially in the opening pages. Small detours abound. We are taken back to 1917, the origins of “Modern industrialism,” workers, comforts, waste. It’s as though you are being plotted on a map, the axis or “axes” or access of it. You are getting asked to interpret it, to “choose.” Choose what though, interpret what?

A glass of milk
or
a cigarette
but not both

a matinee
or
a siesta
but not both

The important thing is that you choose, and choice grows out of information. We think about the way that information plays. It is illustrated in the two conditional statements above, but it is also born out in the book’s trajectory. We are brought back to the idea of choice amidst information overload. And therefore, choose what? The referential landscape of Moschovakis’s poems is massive. I’m flipping through the pages learning all kinds of things. There are autobiographical details, statements about The Church of Scientology, references to cultural guilt, and information about tribes from New Guinea. There exist Craigslist advertisements, concerns about work, ethics, concerns about compensation. There’s information about weddings, information about giving gifts, Bonnie and Clyde, inurement. The poet talks about Louis XV, Wittgenstein, Tom Cruise. The book is on overdrive.

One of the core questions, too, it seems to me that the book asks its readers is this: What do we get out of work? And to this, I’ll say that one of the poems I completely absolutely love happens to be a job history poem, a poem that lists past names of employers, and their attendant tendered bones of compensation—

Todo Mundo, 1995-96. $125/day. Free CDs. Lunch.

VHI, 1998. $500/wk. Swag.

Baltimore City Community College, 2000. $1,600 per course per semester.
Free parking.

These are excerpts, portions. What fascinates me is the way the list can build and engage us to think about what is missing. Here, I am reminded of Ammiel Alcalay’s wonderful book, Scrapmetal, and that poetic form of using work as a way to measure one’s time. It is a poignant invitation to read by, personal, and it compels a reader to think about what is worked through, what given, what left out. Compensation for one’s work proves to be more than just numbers, after all, just as choice involves more than the binary offered between one thing and another.

I’ll limit my review to a few more things. Because I am only one reader approaching a lake, and for me, this lake is connected to noise and entanglements of vagus nerves angular and brightly lit, relentless as a sound of information, relentless as the precise and dynamic upturned canoe of information—

And I will go with you to the end of this argument
As I have gone with you to the beach
And the man with the cooler will walk by selling streets
And we will pick a street to carry us home

I do go to the end of these arguments. “From these definitions one must pick / and choose.” Moschovakis fetches and confects the poems. She responds to information as other, as in you and “three others” are approaching a lake. I continue to wade through it.

Because material exposes comforts and error. Because there is more than we can sort out. How can we get a better understanding of the materially dominated society we live by, as in superstructure, as in information to interpolate, as in jobless rate? Because there are many things, because the outcome of each changes things. I find this picking and choosing amidst the poet’s “selling streets” a positive, worldly response.

And don’t let me leave off without saying it seems a perfect pleasure to think about the significance of the word “approach” in terms of strange love letter algorithms, inherent within the book, and how these are just schmaltzy enough to be timely, goofy cards for your Valentine sweetheart. Take one example—

HONEY SWEETHEART

         YOU ARE MY EROTIC ENTHUSIASM. MY AMBITION
ATTRACTS YOUR APPETITE. MY UNSATISFIED EAGERNESS
YEARNS FOR YOUR UNSATISFIED ENTHUSIASM. YOU ARE
MY FERVENT LONGING. MY KEEN FERVOUR.

        YOURS KEENLY,

It’s downright intriguing that amidst markets, efficiency, waste, diminishing returns, our poet has us think about the ways that machines articulate desire. Because in dealing with chatbots, questions get posed. How does a person engage language differently than a machine? Do you know what a Turing Test is? What are the horizons of desire?

Of course, at this point, I might even digress and ponder a gemmy cinematic reference: the Blade Runner Turing Test. Deckard interrogates Rachael. Her maker, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, presides over the event, and the doctor is proud that it takes more questions than usual to detect that Rachael is a replicant, a verifiable humanoid. But I won’t go there. No. Because it’s like that earlier message and reminder: the important thing is that we choose.


Collin Schuster is a poet who lives and works in Baltimore, MD. More from this author →