Pool [5 choruses] by Endi Bogue Hartigan

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What is collective collects among all the things that were collected together, though properties of “collected” should likely include “among” and “within.” Observing, too, the role “without” must carry, so the collective appears more than just an among, or the among amongst what we see. But, of course, the collective is, and then is singularly collective together, but together is problematic. Does this make sense to you? What about a collective modeled from a field of poppies? Could all those poppies, all the activities among poppies, a woman on a horse riding through, people walking through, the look of other poppies up against the poppies that are further out, fit into the figure you call “poppies” or should it be “field of poppies”? How many poppies? 10,000? Would it change if it were 10,000,000? That’s how many Endi Bogue Hartigan starts with in her new book Pool [5 choruses]. So many poppies makes you think differently about the single poppy. It makes you think differently about a collective of poppies. Should you consider the collective of poppies a single entity, or a compound entity reliant on all the individual parts, or are they just background, something invisible or at least inconspicuous? But who, if they have actually seen poppies, would want to leave them to the background?

And so the issue of chorus. Is it merely an abstract idea referring to “a collection of people acting in a single body”? Is it actual people standing behind the pulpit singing? I am mainly familiar with “chorus” as a collective presence weighing in on the events of a Greek tragedy. “Oedipus, what are you doing?” says the chorus. And the chorus, I suppose, isn’t supposed to know what Oedipus is doing the way that the audience knows all along where this play is going, because Oedipus is a tragedy not a suspense. Oedipus is a reenactment of paradox again and again. With the chorus standing to the side as a support structure helping us remember and reimagine and recapture all Oedipus’ mistakes like we were seeing them for the first time. Supposedly, they are. Chorus as monolithic response. Chorus as entire city of Thebes. Chorus as all the people around Oedipus who can register the sentiments and reactions that all people would have if they saw what their leader was capable of.

But what’s the deal with “all”? Hartigan never asks this question, but the question lilts over almost every poem. Why is “all” such an easy mechanism in rhetoric, and we, as readers, are so easy to be swayed by it, even while “all” is seldom really all that’s being named in the sentence. In the poem “Experiment with Seven Hearts,” Hartigan crafts lots of different all’s. What about all seasons, and all teenagers, and all the starlings you might let in the attic, what do each of those all’s consist of?

Try now seven seasons static
in the streets
Let eleven teenage, walking, wearing headphones,
Let in deafen,
amp and prison, see what they do

Take your heaven from the attic
Let in missiles and fanatics
Let in starlings pecking sunflower hearts
Let in failure, punching
The presences impart
presences anew

Of course, the poem itself presents a certain kind of “all” in its sonic echoes. There’s “static,” “attic” and “fanatic.” There’s “deafen,” “heaven” and “presences.” On the sonic level alone, the poem starts to complicate our sense of an “all” that acts as one single agency. Maybe two things can sound the same, and maybe that sonic sameness can tighten the correlation between the “static” nature of an “attic.” But what of a word’s single entity-ness? These two words represent very different sensibilities. “Static” can act as adjective or noun. It can be that kind of boundary where the real, concrete world inhabits our immediate vicinity, and it starts feeling like what we imagine an abstract blank cube would feel like if placed in our chest. This richness of denotation contrasts markedly to “attic,” which solidly refers to a specific portion of a house. And yet it’s that solid signifying that makes it available for figuration. For instance, when Bachelard equates the attic to the intellect. 

All of this might look like an indulgence of language play, but it lies at the heart of Hartigan’s project. What is a chorus? What are people together? What is this gigantic amalgamation of media that we intake every day supposed to mean as a collective and, simultaneously, as individual bits. Take that same notion and apply it to the groupings proposed in the above poem. Seven seasons would all be seasons, would all represent that overall sense of time of year and the presence a specific time of year has when it settles over a neighborhood or a city. It dictates the habits of a home. But a static winter is hardly the same as a static spring. One season must be different from another. The physical conditions alone, in terms of temperature, in terms of the appearance of trees, are radically different. But conceptually, too. A static winter is itself typical. A static spring is atypical. 

I’m not capable of writing enough here to fully express just what Hartigan does with the dilemma of sense-making, especially because I feel like she’s making so much sense the whole time. Yes, I see how many different directions poems take a reader on the literal level. Her poem, “The sun left scripts,” is actually a tame example of this radically varying literalness:

Silver shiver silver surface, only that.
Silver doesn’t ask itself what would it give, give up
or give away; is wouldn’t be silver then,

right? It wouldn’t be shining
through the center, apparent and profitless and barely white.
The water moving turned to silver for a moment then
to clear again–the sun

on the water turned to silver blinding then to sun.
The sun left scripts of silver on the reservoir then only water.
Pull them apart
without ripping: paper pasted with old glue

For me, the obvious reading of this poem is the image of sun on water, and that reflective surface that can blind in its glare. The movement of sun on water. The water moving so the sun appears to move over the surface or hover on the surface. For Hartigan’s poem, the challenge is expressing that contiguity, simultaneity and separation (“ripping” “pull them apart”) of the light’s reflection. And she goes at it sonically (“silver shiver silver surface”) and sensibly (“The water moving turned to silver for a moment then / to clear again”) and figuratively (“Silver doesn’t ask itself…”) and linguistically (“what would it give, give up / or give away,” implying that lilt of the lake water). Again, I’m not capable of writing enough here to fully express just what Hartigan is doing.

What is the conceptual center of togetherness and chorus and “all” and collective? And the examples I’ve given in this review are the most review-friendly pieces I can provide. 

If you’ve read Hartigan’s One Sun Storm, I would say Pool [5 choruses] is most like the final poem, “Tiger Entries.” Maybe because that was my favorite poem in her first book. Just for the poem’s accumulation of partialities that all feel like they’re pooling together, the way mercury would pool on a surface. Pool [5 choruses] is like One Sun Storm pulled over in the lyric direction of Julie Carr, Eleni Sikelianos and maybe even the extremity of Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. In fact, imagine these poets the individual voices Hartigan sometimes requires her poems be read in. “Running Sentences,” for instance, has directions to be read by three different voices. Which is all to say that you’ll likely need to invite friends over if you’re planning to read Hartigan’s book. There are many voices necessary to fill out your own personal chorus.

Kent Shaw's first book Calenture was published in 2008. His work has appeared in The Believer, Ploughshares, Boston Review and elsewhere. He begins teaching at Wheaton College in Massachusetts in Fall 2016. More from this author →