Lyric Possibility in Jericho Brown’s Please
and Richard Siken’s Crush
Discussing current battles with the lyric I, Marianne Boruch questions whether to “battle—or absorb,” leaning towards the latter and adding: “There are ways. Because there have been ways: shrewd or blundering, serious or comic, ways found by accident or design, predictable ways or no-one-in-her-right-mind-could-imagine, pretty much impossible ways to enter a poem and keep it going” (52). Perhaps the most exciting thing about Brown and Siken is simply that they find ways, “serious or comic… pretty much impossible ways,” to speak newly of and from the self in the twenty-first century. In a 2011 interview with Bomblog, Siken says, “In ‘You Are Jeff,’ everyone in the world—including the speaker and the reader—is named Jeff. With only one identity, each part of the world must now define itself in relation to its other parts, rather than as a stand-alone thing, independent of context.” The interviewer responds, “Naming restricts, naming limits, naming is an alchemy that makes that which is wild, suddenly somehow civil. Is naming a political act?” Siken: “Yes.” And we’re back to that “political aptitude” of the lyric. Asked if he is a political poet, though, Siken replies, “No. I’m interested in nouns and verbs, not agendas. I wish my scope was larger. There are things worth arguing about and fighting for. But I’m not a soldier—not that kind of soldier—I’m a spy.”
I love that qualification: Not that kind of soldier. Instead, Siken and Brown pick up the lyric project and subtly shift what comes before, what comes next. How the lyric voice “materializes,” how it morphs and slides. But thank goodness their poems aren’t just about poems, full instead of breathing, living beings. Full of ironies, yes, but sincerity too. It’s no coincidence, surely, that both of these books are full of images of skin, that neither-outside-nor-in layer a language of race and pain and desire. Their poems change how we hear and feel the boundaries between us. Getting on the subway. Tying back our hair. High theory aside, they march with their trumpets around the walls of our cities; make us feel the hairpin turn in our throats.