“Trust me. I have things to say” (14).
Poetry is a difficult genre to review. Poetry is a personal subject: for each of our bodies, there is a poetry that corresponds, that resonates and echoes with us.
Richard Siken’s Crush is my favorite collection of poetry – and one of my favorite books. I went through a period in my life when I read it once a week (on Sundays). I’ve recorded myself reading poems from Crush and sent the recordings to romantic prospects (with varying degrees of success, but that says nothing of Siken).
War of the Foxes is not Crush. There is a different amplitude about it. It is less concussive than Crush; more a stiletto knife through rib-spaces than a gut-punch (I like my poetry like a back-alley-fight — I like to come away with marks, impacted). And yet, perhaps it is not fair, I think, to talk about Foxes in the shadow of Crush (though how to separate them? there is no yolk from the white. if you do read Siken, you should start with Crush; the climax and catharsis of grief and the understanding of how he frames poetry is, perhaps, clearer in the older anthology).
So let’s talk about War of the Foxes. We begin in an art gallery. And that is what Foxes is, at the end of it, I believe: an art gallery. This may seem inactive. This is especially so if you do not particularly enjoy art galleries, have not been to an art gallery in a long time, or do not realize that while you are looking at the art, the art is also looking back. “All painting is sent downstream, into the future” (26). There’s the impression that the artist remains the active participant, the repetition of the act of creation, even as the viewer is looking (or we are). But what is the art, and who is the artist, and who is the viewer – these are the questions behind the obvious, behind the poems; “We do not walk through a passive landscape. The paint dries eventually” (6). Using something to talk about something else: this is poetry. (This is a good story). This is an exhibit on history, on war, on love. On birds. Ghosts. Paintings. “What is a ghost? What is a painting? Yes and yes, / the same answers” (42). War of the Foxes invites us to look within each frame and to see what we can find — ourselves, and maybe each other. “What’s the difference between me and the world? / Compartmentalization” (40). Connection is the art of it.
When I selected this book to review and began my post, I didn’t know that I would wake up on December 4th to the news of a new poem by Richard Siken. This is wonderful news because, in the Spring of 2019, Siken suffered a stroke and underwent a long recovery, during which he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to write again. Today, he shared “Real Estate.” I am delighted to have him back again.
Siken, Richard. (2015). War of the Foxes. Copper Canyon Press.