Scott Wilkerson
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Review of Case Sensitive, by Kate Greenstreet
(Ahsahta Press, 2006)


The problematics of the written page and its contested relationship to the exigencies of daily experience are, fundamentally, the terms of poetic discourse, by turns explicit and implicit, dramaturgical and exegetical. Kate Greenstreet’s extraordinary book Case Sensitive maps this perilous topography as a semantic universe haunted by revenant narratives and fugitive mists of meaning. In these troubled spaces, knowledge is memory diffracted through a fragmented epistemology.

Each of the book's five sections represents an experiment in the hardcore metaphysics of perception and intensionality. Greenstreet's gallant struggle to find stable formulations for the Selves and Others of a received post-modernity is elegantly staged, executed with refined grace, and then called urgently into question:

There is an obstacle, called
“safe passage.”

There are places that we go—to keep from going somewhere else.
Well, partly, we’ve been waiting our whole lives—

This is a characteristic gesture in Greenstreet’s semantic calculus, a kind of Cantorian flourish in which the line itself is implicated in a temporal and logical paradox; in this instance, “safe passage” out of poetic conjecture, and through rhetorical invention, is suspended and the narrator entangled in her/his own narrative threads. Providentially, it is precisely this doubling of voices that retrieves us from the perilous reductio of broken argumentation. Indeed, heuristic mechanisms for stylized escape constitute the first principles of Greenstreet’s secret science.

Passages, both safe and dangerous, are not merely expressive motifs for documenting the Case Sensitive world but, rather, conclusions for which the book is an extended, imbricated proof. And while Greenstreet has a densely conjugated sense of humor, we are, delightfully, left to wonder how much of her prior commitment to irony she surrenders in declaring: “So much of what we say to one another isn't true—it's just the way it comes out,/so we need to be forgiving.” That she negotiates so fiercely under arc of that forgiveness is evidence not only her essential, gentle humanity but also her intellectual fearlessness, for every idea in this book is pressed against the possibility of collapse and retrieved, at considerable risk to the poet, from the ontological lost-and-found of failure.

Greenstreet's larger achievement, however, is her interrogation of moments between epiphanies, her generously imaginative reading of the grim accretions of non sequitur obscuring the horizon, her honest and strict perplexity before an unresolved tension. To be sure, the first modulation toward a case sensitivity permits some lyric improvisation with ghosts in the arabesques of a dreamed certainty, but she demonstrates that the final trajectory will be toward a poetry of speculative intorsion, the transformative properties of the page, and “the wet ink/at the heart of faith.”