ON WAR OF THE FOXES BY RICHARD SIKEN
COPPER CANYON PRESS, 2015
REVIEW BY DALTON DAY
Perspective might be our most important possession. How we see the world & how we see each other. By “we” I mean individually. I can see you & I can see me. But you seeing you & you seeing me is entirely different. If you can show me how it’s different, or if I can show you how it’s different, then our perspectives will have gained malleability.
Malleability might be perspective’s most important possession. The poems in Richard Siken’s “War of the Foxes” possess perspective. The perspective of these poems possesses malleability. It changes. You change. You change again. What possesses you?
Who gets to measure the distance between experience and representation? - from “The Language of Birds”
We make things. We make things because we can’t make ourselves. We have already been made. We are already being unmade. And, really, we have no say in the matter. So we take matter & we make it into something else. What is the difference between a thing & a thing representing a thing? A bird & a painted bird? A body & a memory of one?
These are the questions Siken asks. He offers answers, but drops them before we are able to take them from his hand. In the dropping, a change occurs. Sometimes the answer makes it to the ground & sometimes it shatters. Sometimes the answer burrows in the dirt, and years later, becomes a new kind of answer. Do we wait? Do we dig? Do we unearth everything we have buried already? “I want to give you more, but not everything. You don’t need everything.”
For instance, a landscape. A landscape is a painting. A landscape of a field. A field is a thing a person can move their body through. Eventually, a body dies. When a body dies, it is no longer “eventually.”
From the landscape: a sense of scale. / From the dead: a sense of scale. - from “Detail of the Woods”
We as people with bodies have to consistently measure ourselves. We measure ourselves with each other: the distance between us. We measure ourselves with ourselves: the distance between who we are now & who we used to be. We measure ourselves without ourselves. Look at the moon. Look at the birds. Look at the trees. Sometimes we feel at home when we look at them. Sometimes we feel lost. The perspective changes with time. The perspective of time changes with us.
Who’s speaking anyway? Not a problem, / says the moon. Since y’all look the same from up here. – from “Glue”
And of course, we lose sight of what’s real & what’s not. Or: what’s real & what’s not changes. Does memory make things less real, or more real? With the passage of time, the way we see the world blurs. It speeds up. The future happens fast & the past can’t go anywhere, so it changes. The result of this is a blurred present.
Siken tells us, “A blurry landscape is useless.” So what can we do with a useless thing? Represent it. Talk about the things other people have spent their own blurry presents talking about. The moon. Birds. Love.
And of course, perhaps, everything has been said before. But it hasn’t been said by everyone. The moon shines, but when it shines on you, it is something completely different. It isn’t real until it happens to us. And after it happens to us, we are less real. “Am I the ghost at the end of the song? We are very close now, Little Moon. Thank you for shining on me.”
Siken has written a book that is completely universal, by which I mean, this book is a universe unto itself. By which I mean, when visited, this book introduces you to people you think you recognize, but just can’t place. These poems want you to think you have read them before, & maybe you have, but you weren’t the same person then, & you aren’t the same person now. You have changed. You have gained a perspective. You see birds & you want them to mean something besides birds. You see your reflection & you can’t help but feel like there is something in between you two.
One night, when you can’t sleep, you go outside. You see the moon & ask, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” War of the Foxes is the answer to that question.
Richard Siken's poetry collection Crush won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Conjunctions, Indiana Review, and Forklift, Ohio, as well as in the anthologies The Best American Poetry (2000) and Legitimate Dangers. He is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, two Lannan Residencies, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.
War of the Foxes
by Richard Siken
Copper Canyon Press, April 2015
$17.00 paperback, ISBN: 978-1-55659-477-9
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