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Historical Imperatives in Arisa White’s Disposition for Shininess and Sara Veglahn’s Closed Histories

Closed Histories
Noemi Press, 2008

Disposition for Shininess (not pictured)
Factory Hollow Press, 2008

Arisa White’s Disposition for Shininess and Sara Veglahn’s Closed Histories are two incredibly different chapbooks from two seemingly (on the page) different writers. While White’s poetics veer towards the lyric narrative, Veglahn’s work is determinedly lyric, with narratives always harkening in the shadows. Each of these books establishes a central focus: for White, the lyric “disposition” is the core of the poems, while Veglahn constructs a concept for, as her title suggests, closed histories. Despite these fundamental differences in the end product (the poem itself), White and Veglahn’s chapbooks are moody trajectories of the intersections between the personal, the public, the private, the memory and rememory, and the responsibilities of the individual to these not so discrete spaces.

White’s poems are sprawling or tight, playful and compassionate, stark and brutally honed to capture the core of the metaphor that she extends and warps and snaps and releases to a newness. This is innovation at its core: an ability to make new the old, to make unrecognizable the familiar, to comfort and destroy, to build the concept while also building the narrative (and lyric). This innovation is most noticeable in the titular poem, “Disposition for Shininess”, a six-part, eight-page poem (the second poem in the book) that expands the lyric presented in the first poem, “This is How it Went in Luke”. Where “This is How it Went in Luke” builds on an anaphora, “The daughter of,” and stages the book as religious/spiritual beginnings, “Disposition for Shininess” puts the narrative pieces in place. We learn about the births of various members of the family, and White, a master craftician, plays with physical birth, emotional birth, spiritual birth, the birth of geography, and the physical mappings between the siblings, the mother, and the mother’s lover. In White’s hands, every image is compressed and conflated to hold as much emotional resonance as possible: “Like over and over again we a post-it/to some stone she had to swallow,/some pain that can’t be exfoliated down” (1: 20-22); “She pulls her hair and there’s a widow./Slicked, she stands at the peak of her thoughts./Our mother polishes her requiem until it’s an opal./Watch it long it glistens like a leach” (2: 12-15); “We fold the smaller one into the bigger one/until we are one child our mother cannot hold.//. . .We know this exquisite corpse between us” (4: 2,3, 14). This poem, similar to others in the book, drops clues and picks them up, working deeply on nuance.

Sara Veglahn, too, is an exquisite innovator. Closed Histories, a series of untitled prose poems, build on a basic premise and re-create as it queries. Veglahn’s innovation happens within the lines, saturated as they are with quietness and mystery, with a surprise that startles the senses, but that, oddly, feel right, earned. She writes: “Where there’s a magic number for each/thought. I walk sideways down the road. I walk/careful and slow. The soldiers are in the fields./The soldiers are coming down from the hills” (2-5). I follow these poems because the voice is steady, confident, curious, and tenacious. Selah Saterstrom says that “Between the images an almost divinatory logic erupts,” and Veglahn captures that deep intuition in the middle poems, which begin in the simple and move quickly, stealthily, to the profound: “From the window, light. From the light, a/pattern. From patterns, the shape of the world./A thought in a shape. . . ./As if in a mirror, the way that you are not/yourself in your reflection” (1-5). Veglahn’s work feels like a mash-up of Muriel Rukeyser and Mei-Mei Bersennbrugge: deeply philosophical, utterly conceptual, fresh, political, and painfully compassionate.

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Metta Sáma
Metta Sáma is author of Nocturne Trio (YesYes Bøøks, 2012) & South of Here (New Issues Press, 2005, published under her legal name, Lydia Melvin). Her poems, creative nonfiction, and book reviews have been published or forthcoming in Blackbird, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, Diner, Esque, The Owls, Pebble Lake Review, Verse, Vinyl, Zone 3, among others. She is the fiction editor of ragazine and Social Media and Marketing intern at Her Circle Ezine.
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