Matt Gagnon

Review of Let's Not Call It Consequence, by Richard Deming
(Shearsman Books, 2008)

“The tongue's a muscle for reckoning.”

Richard Deming's first collection of poems holds the light by a thread, dangling from the daily incarnations of bodily and disembodied fragments emerging from the aperture of sight. In the opening poem “A Fragment Of Anything You Like” the speaker registers “This voice / scattered and lifelike” to indicate the impossibility of a voice to be its own container of vision, despite the fact that it is grounded in memory and must negotiate the terms of the real. We are amid the refraction of speech revising itself under the weight of the tongue, where the primal aspect of breath as life force, or pneuma , partake of a formality Deming can shape to indicate a thought's precise measure. Below the act of intention, the poems do not absolve themselves from responsibility, meaning they are on the lookout for the “insistent elsewhere,” not in a metaphysical sense, but by mapping the disclosure of thought winding down the page “towards the saying of some / delicate, / infinitely stuttering thing.”

Deming addresses the invisible seams between flesh and desire where the flesh must reconstitute its relation with History and the Other, both distantly and near a lover's tributaries of desire. With these acts of recovery, we are in the “suddenness of a house,” a place of presence and absence that trace the record of a meeting with what is familiar and foreign to our sense of location. Objects and perception in Deming's poems flicker in a web of nerves; they bring us to a singularity stunned by the illusion of appearances that “promise the tongue will / take it apart.” For as Deming also declares in “Mise En Scene,” “there is no new place that lies / fallow, unburdened / by appearance.”

There is an ethical dimension to Deming's poems, which speak of intimacy in the face of a retreating world. As he writes in his critical book, Listening On All Sides: Towards An Emersonian Ethics of Reading, “Distance is the condition of intimacy.” This kind of polar logic works its way to break down epistemologies and incite a reading generative of creative response. The statement is also a negation of the apparent space between “distance” and “intimacy” whereby the affirmation acts to recovery the world's retreat as the site of some disclosure. From the poem, “In This Portion Love Has No Solid Grip,” we read:

A vocabulary to figure distance.

How you say…I’m not here now,
leave a message.
I want an answer more generous than this,
since meaning is no machine, but a luck

             good as the promise
                           of a brief, almost beautiful world.

This passage carefully advances a subjectivity that desires immediate contact. This immediacy is enacted and thwarted by the formal experimentation of Deming's poems, but usefully balanced by a linguistic restraint that asks “How to be disinterred from nothing.” The contextual and formal struggles that are addressed and enacted through formal choices, such as line breaks, enjambment, manipulation of white space as a canvas for viewing, and the profuse indentation akin to an Olsonian poetics of projectivism, provoke the reader into refashioning his/her radar for the creation of meaning, which is finally to be in the position of self-reflection amidst a cacophony of words strung along in their multi-resonances.

In the poem “Enmesh,” Deming commands: “Encase me in the daily. This too solid air / fashions a bright mirror.” Besides the refractory surface of the poems, Deming's attention to the unrecognized daily binds us to the unseen or overlooked particulars that elude sight. The almost snapshot perception the poems' negotiate arrive to dismantle the “tongue of forgetting.” Deming's poems are clear in their pronouncements and are unguarded by any submission to detail for detail's sake. When we read “a haze of black flies thickens beneath magnesium streetlights,” the tabulation of materials provides an entrance into a landscape that sutures the object with what it attempts to depict as action. Think of Deming's poems as restlessly in motion, rest disturbingly in his shades of ambiguity alighting upon the physical evidence of living, and don't take for granted the social aberrations tested “by the tongue's elegant, insistent / interrogations and the / cool hush / of breath.” Let's Not Call It Consequence councils the body's meta-narratives in relation to an outside and its scarred exterior. This spoken distance is the poet's antenna tuning in, accounting for experience and its ruptures and gasps. It is the scattered voice of the poet naming the damage, reclaiming a “hidden architecture.”