Light is the most overused word in contemporary poetry, maybe the most overused in poetry period. There are some revelatory kinds of light, sure—rosy-fingered dawn enveloping the sky on certain spring mornings; the type of light that passes for dusk in late August when you’re 18 and suddenly realize how alive you truly are —but to my way of believing there are so many other types to actively revile. Morning or night, think of the airport’s numbing fluorescence, of the sheer frustration light so often illuminates in the hospital or DMV. The dull, insipid kind that backdrops every breakup. Or the light that floods our eyelids when, restless, all we want to do is sleep. And ventricles of light, tourniquets of light, rivers and streams of light. Rooms imbued to their rickety rafters with dusky light. It’s the poetic idealization of light that is often most abstract and grating.
I mention all this light business in conjunction with Rebecca Lindenberg’s new collection The Logan Notebooks for a single reason, namely that there’s not a lot of light in the book. Certainly it’s a sensation that pops up every now and then— we are light’s minions and perhaps it’s impossible not to occasionally comment on that fact—but like all nimble and dexterous poets Lindenberg finds better words to use than those oft-used. This is particularly interesting with regards to The Logan Notebooks’ title. Our notebooks normally contain the flat, blatant thoughts that we plan to later revise. Light, desire, beautiful, perfect, forever—most poets’ Moleskins are filled with maudlin words of this ilk. The goal, of course, is to later hone such bald sentiments into ones previously unheard and more worthy of publication; deserving of the attention of a wide readership. But Lindenberg’s latest volume seems to fly in the face of such thinking. Meaning that the poetry contained within The Logan Notebooks has a rough draft feel whilst simultaneously seeming delicately ordered and crafted as a collection. It’s a neat and difficult trick and Lindenberg achieves it via her clever linguistic attunement. Her poetry is casual (notebookesque), but also open to deeper modes of knowing and understanding.
There’s not a lot of light in The Logan Notebooks but there are a healthy amount of aphorisms and improvisations, specific place-based poems—“On a Visit to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty”—and poems wholly indebted to the surveying of things—“Things That Lose by Being Photographed;” “Things You Can Never Have Back.” Lindenberg’s primary stance as a poet is to assail conclusions while prodding realizations. Throughout the collection the speaker’s on-again, off again, love interest is simply referred to as “my guy;” the entirety of one of the “Aphorism” poems reads “Sometimes the best way out of the rain is into the river.” Each improvisatory piece–there are nine total—tersely designates the distinction between instinct’s immediacy and thought’s calibration; midway through, lines in “Improvisation (Arrival)” read “I don’t say/ how I long to throw myself//into the deep grove/of the present//like a needle in a moving record/and pick up the note of this life…I gesture towards//this or this, meaning/ just what I say and more.”
In a somewhat similar vein, all of the “Things That…” poems are striking in that they are obvious to the point of befuddlement; the reader might be surprised by what she often forgets or has never taken the time to remember. “Things That Have Lost Their Power” asserts:
Anyone who feels they have to lie. An adult asleep in their candy-colored childhood bedroom. A talented cellist at a karaoke club.
Someone who loves to read but can’t always see.
And “Things That Lose By Being Written About” maintains:
Snow escaping our footsteps. Snow melting out from under itself. Clockworks, though they are very beautiful and tempting to write about. Halcyon days.
A strange desire to touch embers in the fire pit. They wax orange when you blow on them, like recognizing something as true.
Lyric, which is a kind of defiant logic and moves like a crowd. The crack of ice melting in a glass of rye. The strident scent of conifer. Any idea of home.
Are these observatory sentences poetic? Are they worthy of poetry—are they poetry? Or should they instead have ever-loitered in the back of one of Lindenberg’s unpublished notebooks? The non-lineated, list-like, just-jotted-down form might identify the notebook element, but it’s the subtle profundity of each statement that surely identifies the poesy; the importance of each poem’s title to its content surely helps in this identification. In The Logan Notebooks Lindenberg might guise the seemingly banal or non-poetic with its off-my-head opposite; she might tease the reader with one line aphoristic poems that, off the page, chisel in the mind for far longer than they take to read. But her work in the collection is defiantly that of a master. And like all masters, she makes it look easy. Which is to say that simplicity is never simplistic, no matter how simple it might seem. The Logan Notebooks is a book lightened by its fervency, by its deceptive buoyancy. To wit, Logan is a town in Utah, near Salt Lake City; per the volume’s back cover, Lindenberg holds a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah, a school located in Salt Lake City. Lindenberg’s poetry thus adheres to the old adage write what you know. Only she knows what we don’t and as readers our pleasure derives from her willingness to share such enlightenment.