VIRGINIA KONCHAN Reviews
Intervening Absence by Carrie Olivia Adams
(Ahsahta Press, Boise, ID, 2009)
The Ghostly Presence of Absence
Carrie Olivia Adams’ debut collection, Intervening Absence, engages with the forces that establish—and destroy—the structures of our lives. Architectural structures are literal and metaphorical in Adams’ work (as representations of the self): Martin Heidegger also explored the poetic significance of dwelling places—and the implications of their dissolution—throughout his oeuvre. In his essay “Building Dwelling Thinking” Heidegger recalls the Old English and High German word for building, buan (“to dwell”), arguing that the role of the poet is to build a habitation for thought, in which the poet and his or her readers may dwell. The metaphor of a bridge figures in Heidegger’s thought as a connective structure between divine and human realms; in Adams’ work, bridges figure as conduits whose destruction bodes disaster.
From one of the two title poems “Intervening Absence”: “Water/ knows its way in/ through the cracks/ Floods have reached the bridge/ Now the bridge bridges nothing.” The bridge reappears in the collection’s final poem, “A History of Drowning,” as well, this time not as a monolith flanked by twin negations, but as a place of temporary refuge: “This is before you have forgotten which way is east. So, this is after you stopped on a bridge/ by a statue to admire her hands . . . If you keep walking you will find the ocean/ or a single wave/ or the cusp of a shell./ There is a room in the attic with jointed anatomic models and dressmaker torsos./ You & the parcels may stay there.”
The other guiding trope of this collection is the voyeurism inherent to beholding/being beheld. Also from “A History of Drowning”: “You had been watching your neighbors./ At first, they thought it was a coincidence/ that you were by the window every time they looked out./ But once they knew you were watching, it then seemed normal to them.” The power of the viewer, in Adams’ filmic modality, grounds Intervening Absence as a poetic of discomfiting slippages and sudden foreclosures. This mounting drama is enacted with impressive restraint: “Music/ indistinguishable from the sound/ of breakage. Perhaps it would be/ if you were listening—/ Instead, you want to watch me. Some days./ I want you to./ Watch me.”
Completed acts (of an arc of thought or full gesture), are so repeatedly interrupted in Intervening Absence as to take the place of communication. The speaker emphasizes the infinite suspension of the present moment, caught “mid-prayer,” in her poem “Vermilion” (or, alternately, from “Pockets”): “The shutter caught/ mid stutter.”
At her best when linking the crises of contemporary thought to linguistic interrogations (also from “Vermilion”: “I hated the potential of the instant./ What becomes of intention?” or, in the imperative form, “Extract and yet signify,/ become”), Adams continually surprises—and delights—her reader by perceptual shifts which thwart expectation: “The commonplace might be miraculous/ and never enough.”
Virginia Konchan's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Believer, The New Republic, Notre Dame Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is a contributing reviewer for The Rumpus and ForeWord Magazine.