The Gesture of Narrative


And Then Something Happened, Susan M. Schultz
[Salt, 9.99]


What I like best about the poetry of Susan Schultz is its balance of philosophical and lyrical/sensory elements, facilitating the attainment of tiers of awareness in the reader. And Then Something Happened richly rewards the reader with an impeccably deft questioning of the narrative in concert with full use of its properties.

Poetry this good feels easy. But each return trip to the poems in this volume yields new dimensions. Beginning with sound/idea, proceeding through tissue after tissue of evidence, one is treated to a satisfying, even fulfilling journey at each point of focus. Schultz appears to draw a perception and then delve deeply into it, finding more, calling the reader's attention to additional possibilities, posing questions, hypothesizing answers, continually making use of multiple points of reference.

Exploring the gesture of the narrative becomes a primary subject of And Then Something Happened,
in which a finely-honed, economical lyricism propels the reader into the discovery of several surprises. The book begins with a string of declarative sentences that discovers, reveals, informs, parses, while pressing for a yield of unanticipated outcomes.

     In the year of the snake, rivers
     flowed circuitously to sea: desire
     for revenge filled the populace
     with an inverse longing for balance
     at any cost, like a field of grasses
     that appeared only when the death
     camps closed.

Laced with irony and parodic lilt, the poem moves through a litany of discoveries leading to:

     Horoscopes/told of a year of turmoil and strange
     happiness, as of days past grief, the new
     world opening to a redemptive clangor
     of carnivals, now lodged at the city's edge,
     where barkers and clowns called out. One
     small child gave answer, waving from the burnished
     frame of burned out window, her tears
     a kind of reverence expressed as interrogative.

And Then Something Happened
rises to the implicit challenge of being swept up mid-stream-of-events, evidencing a writer without pretence and wholly in command of a versatile, deceptively direct style replete with a capacity for unearthing unexpected layers of complexity that become clear.

A favourite poem is the nine-part 'The Lost Country', in which one is reminded that 'Quite possibly, memory is
the first art.' Susan Schultz uses natural language to tap into increasingly deeper discoveries. Her narrative functions as an instrument that deprives us of unquestioned existence. The river becomes an emblem of narration that Schultz simultaneously uses and questions.

The philosophical orientation, the depth of the lines, the yield of an economical word stream, dazzles and appeals to a reader who prefers complete immersion in the pursuit of thought. Schultz acknowledges the entity of language, the full power of music, the propulsion of thought allowing itself to match the potency of formal movement in and through the concept:

          . . . nothing
     else holds us together and yet nothing
     is so difficult to remember as pain,
     which is like a lake whose shores
     denote the difference between pain
     and what it teaches us, the art
     of recollection without reliving,
     wisdom as the applied memory
     that mediates between the present
     and what constructed it, the past's most
     certain contingencies . . .

The press of acceptance that fortifies perceived acceptance of likeness and meta-likeness, surging forward with meaning that transcends any encapsulation one has suspected might be true or real or possible.

'Or is there no thinking but in music?' becomes the inevitable question resonating on many levels. Schultz touches the neck of the violin nerve that releases as precise a surprise in sonority as a harmonic might do. Her engagement with language demonstrates a quest for even the mechanics of how motion, thought, music, and physicality might meet. At what point does the narrative begin to encompass what defines it?

The near juxtaposition of a litany in language on language that fills Section III of this poem and Section V's assertion that

     . . . Abstraction
     is the mind's own silence, retreat
     from danger, the predator's cave . . .

remind the reader that tangible tools are being used to ground and release the attention from the blinders to which it has grown accustomed. The further acknowledgement that

     - how much easier to write that pronoun
     as if by fiat one could transcend
     the selfishness that still defines us,
     self-creation having no rules
     but those we write as we go along

endorses the process to which the writer is committed, a disciplined and liberating engagement with thought.

This volume includes both lineated work and prose poems. Of the two, I prefer the lineated pieces, based upon their relatively lithe nature, more limber in character than the comparatively dense quality of the prose poems.

The title section of the book exemplifies Schultz's skillful capability of juxtaposing nature and multiple cultural strands that seem to infect any hope of a purer reality. Mentions of Homeland Security, John Ashcroft, institutions, graffiti's truest self, children's stories and programs, the chant/lament of a broken man, all set in a London location during the year 2002. Schultz reminds us that memory is a constructed thing, possesses arbitrary elements, and hovers above life force, both before and beyond its realization. 'That Donald Rumsfeld stars in my friend's poem is not a good thing' presses perception, follows thought where it traverses.

I recommend this book without reservation. Susan Schultz is a fine poet whose excellent skill and fine, thoughtful perceptions function to create a splendid book.

         Sheila E. Murphy 2005