Rise in the Fall by Ana Božičević

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Ana Božičević writes poetry that believes in poetry. This is no small feat. And I believe her poems. They are entirely credible documents of their own accord. Nothing is laid on too heavy, there’s just enough gutsiness without any nonsense or sentimental bravado. This, too, is no small feat. Writing outwards from deep inside the poem talking about being deep inside the poem, Božičević offers nothing less than the ultimate tour of the inner orders of the world of the poem. The impressive part is that the world outside the world of the poem is always the center of concern. Božičević is a “poet’s poet” in so far that she’s intimately addressing poets and poetry in her poems, but the range and scope of her engagement far exceeds that or any other label.

In “Poem Capitalism” she describes how she practices

this thing I call Objectless
Objectivism. Like: I face the thing, but also
am the thing—so we aren’t. Once, I was content to find
the marble hollow. Filled with a giant star. Now

laved in grease, I rub again against
that dry nubbin in the great warehouse Archyron—(this is not
some reference you’re supposed to get, it’s just this
weird feeling I had.) The yellow frame darkens. I live

in the light but perish in the industrial warehouse,
under the specter of marriage, of hip. Again I wrote
a meaningless poem! and left me
with all the burden of meaning. He died, and she—

We carried her through

Following John Berryman’s lead, Ted Berrigan, in both life and “the poems” succinctly nailed the riff “he died” (“dear Berrigan. He died/ Back to books. I read.” Berrigan’s “Sonnet #2”) Božičević drops in the reference, but then goes further, opening up the question of what about her? And, with the help of claiming a plurality, i.e. “we”, takes the poem beyond where they left off, into a further doorway. Carrying (in fact, rescuing) the speaker of the poem, the body itself, away from the trap that consumed both previous male poets, in life as well as in the work.

Not that death isn’t seemingly everywhere for Božičević. Born in Croatia in 1977, Božičević has been on the fringes at least—if not in the middle of—violent war torn situations. I don’t feel it is poetic fancy when she writes in “Casual Elegy for Luka Skračić”: “I / study from Luka’s textbooks, later he / gets blown up walking to film school, Luka / dies for his art.”

Božičević’s poems are diatribes that refuse become didactic. She’s too busy interrogating herself as much as she is the world, for the poem to slide into meeting easy expectations. In “War on a Lunchbreak” her own gendered sexuality, and that of her friends and the larger society, alongside her past history and current nationality status, caught up between her homeland and her adopted United States, surges to the surface as she reflects upon the hellish clerical job she’s stuck working just to get by. She asks, “What’s war?”

Eternal countrylessness.
Lady poets writing about cock,
not thinking about gender. My friends married in Vegas
to good-ol’-boys or hipster drummers, just ‘cos they can, or
when I contemplate
starving myself
so I’d be “the bomb,” or. I’m sorry
I keep tossing and turning. My livelihood here

depends on people who’ve never tasted
war, and act offended when one leaves work
on time. Not that I ever lay hiding

dying in a ditch, but if I had, I think I’d
know much about dry grass, the incredible value of it:
Simply to see the stalks
move would be enough.

I’d like to have time to type this,
but all day long they’re looking over my shoulder.

Where the poems in Rise in the Fallmay appear to be going in search of death, Božičević is in fact only drawing attention towards realizing life. These poems are affirming her concern with how to live, what’s required, where to find it. As dark as the subject matter gets at times, the over-riding encouragement that this is life, get on with it, is ever just as insistent. Be brave is the message. There’s nothing to fear once you look at things head on.

I think I nod at the true death: when from a moving train
I see a house in the morning sun
and it casts a shadow on the ground, an inquiry
and I think “Crisp inquiry”
& go on to work, perfumed of it—that’s the kind of death
I’m talking about.

An angle of light. Believe in it. I believe in the light and the disorder of the word
repeated until quote Meaning unquote leeches out of it. And that’s
what I wanted to do with dame Death, for you:
repeat it until you’re all, What? D-E-A-T-H? ‘Cause Amy
that’s all it is, a word, material in the way the lake moves through the trees
is material, that is: insofar, not at all.
Because we haven’t yet swum in it. See what I mean?
(“Death, Is All”)

Ana BozicevicBožičević does not mince words. “I’ll tell you straight up: / you don’t get to talk about Mayakovsky: / take that skateboard and go back to the suburbs. And talk about them.” (“About Mayakovsky”) It is totally great to have poems by a relatively young poet so directly address everyday reality while remaining free of pretension. There’s no placating search after any
specific lingo of MFA craft or other academic jargon. Božičević is all-poet, crystal clear about what she wants to say and who her audience is. The humor is rampant. After reading, “A Poem for You” it’s ridiculously difficult (if you could manage it before) to ever look at any My Little Pony with a straight face again:

I want to write a nice long poem for all you straight girls.
Your religion’s rose and glass castles
hold no place for me, I’m out of my princess phase.
Your pink pony wants to fuck you
She’s limp with longing from being
always touched and hollow,
comb-tugged right out of her field:

Oh I’m too tired to worship at your kittenish emptiness.
For years my emptiness echoed into yours: Oh Hai!
For years I’ve been your pony, and I wanted to fuck you

without your pink dress, the glitter and the organs,
all colorless—

But Božičević is not at all just about putting down “straight girls”. As she goes on to say, “I’m over it.” The poem continues unfolding, complicating its own intentions which are, and never should be, entirely clear.

I love someone now, she’s teaching a class,
she had a bad dream & threw the lotion
at the hurtful door, and I love her, there’s nothing hollow there.
There’s no void in the straight girls either, not really.

This yard is in you, ladies,
green and monn-lit, where you prance like difficult adult Bambis:
that’s not desperate, that’s beauty. I only wanted
to have my fill, as I fill her:

undo you first, then balance out the void in a weighted way
so then you’ll know: How
do you do a Barbie?
With meaning. Women, I’ll defend
your beauty

when no-one else will: when you’re lacerated with IVs
and wrinkles, I’ll say how I filled you with Awwww.
When you’re a crazy-eyed teen who hears voices & sings them
out at an American Idol
audition, a sparrow

aping the starsong ringtone–
I’ll get it. I love you when you’re not quite right.

Božičević opens the possibility that poets might strive to be heroes. Not necessarily ‘saving the day’ kind of heroes, but heroes nonetheless.

at any object & see
the shimmer of philosophers playing inside…And they’re
what you want. And it takes a show-off, sacred whore
you say you don’t
believe in, but ecto-drool over, to make
them emanate: and I don’t got that, babe. I’m sitting here,
wet from my run and
know that somewhere among these ducks and squirrels and,
reflected in the car hood, ducks
and leaf silhouettes
is a way for me to manage
the pain of:
all I ever wanted was to serve.
(“We’re the Aliens We’ve Been Looking For”)

That’s not to say that Božičević doesn’t call ‘Bullshit’ on playing out that role. Still, she does both get the girl and is the girl. Plus, she writes it down always telling it straight. No apologies. She’s not expecting anything further from poetry than the opportunity of the poem itself.

Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works at Gleeson Library for the University of San Francisco. His recent books include: from Book of Kings (Bird and Beckett Books), Drops of Rain / Drops of Wine (Spuyten Duyvil) and The Duncan Era: One Reader's Cosmology (Spuyten Duyvil). More from this author →