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Binh Nguyen

A Relationship Gone Missing: ‘Love, an Index’ by Rebecca Lindenberg

Many poems of love loss have been written, but none are as difficult to categorize as those in Rebecca Lindenberg’s collection Love, an Index (McSweeney’s; 96 pages). The title itself is a teasing, post-romantic gesture, as though the subject can be summed up in one sequential arrangement. And yet, the poet attempts. But unlike Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” whose world is full of “many things… filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster,” Lindenberg’s poems do not possess that self-consoling bravado. Her loss is abrupt and unforeseeable; her lover-poet, Craig Arnold, mysteriously vanishes while hiking a volcano in Japan.

Whereas Bishop is soberly enterprising in her compilation of losses, Lindenberg is prudent. Her poems cautiously interact with memory: “I do not believe I remember any of this wrong, but there is reason I have left bits out.” One might say she is a curator and a synthesizer of experience, a specialist rather than a generalist, for she chooses particular scenes, times, places, and poets who give voice to her emotions. Lindenberg effortlessly creates an egoless world, full of feeling yet devoid of melodrama, in which she plays sidekick to the more famous Arnold.

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What We Do to Ourselves, and to the Wild: ‘Raptor’ by Andrew Feld

A bold investigation of cruelty, Andrew Feld’s Raptor (University of Chicago Press; 88 pages) illuminates the visceral details of the external world through electrifying, scary close encounters. Feld wastes no time in announcing his provocation: “You wanted a little bit of wilderness / Held docile on your wrist. What could be tamer / Than extinct?” These lines pierce straight through to the locus of a power struggle where the table is turned on a bird tamer, who is probed by accusations of culpability and blamed for razing what he touches.

Feld’s poetry dissects violence and imbues it with drama, provoking the reader to feel the pain of betrayal and the futility of forgiveness for something that is already lost. In “Cascade Raptor Center: Capture,” a boy’s apologies for shooting down a red-tail hawk with his new gun are rendered meaningless, leaving him alone to deal with the shame exacerbated by his father’s fury and with the psychosomatic castigation silence can provoke.

The speaker in Feld’s poems can objectively view the nature of cruelty – which descends from indifference to pain and from the need to maintain power — and see its necessary prerequisite of possession: “our only mutual [agreement] / is the tethering hunger we use to bind our birds // to us and overcome their deep-rooted / abhorrence of the human face.” Here, food is used as a means of control, of transacting with hatred. The speaker understands the supremacy of man over his fellow animals, and intuits the fear they have of him. And though he chooses to ally himself, out of love, with the rapacious birds he tames, he recognizes all the same that his love is not reciprocated, that the love is powerless.

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