Reviewed by Darren C. Demaree
I box the forms, the parade of carbon rings to / which hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen cling. / The organic seems solid but lies
In her new collection We are Procession, Seismograph (Nixes Mate Books) Devon Balwit has been able to accomplish something akin to the flush of cellular mutation. As I read and reread this book, attempting to figure out a bit of the spell she was using on me, I kept coming back to the idea that she was working with smudges on her thumbs. Every time I saw the beauty in this book I would immediately see that the beauty had roughed me up a bit in the process.
There are plenty of collections of prose poems that use the form to give the skeleton of narrative and then do nothing else with the form. These prose poems do what the best of prose poems do: they take the energy of the fluid lines and they do something with it. They possess partial and abstract narratives and, occasionally, most of a hand is shown. But she doesn’t rely on the structure to lessen the power of the language or the images. This is what Balwit does best: she is a poet that moves amidst the lines with great technique and with great music.
This book is more than a quick strike through each poem. These poems build as the narrators and viewpoints challenge each other. This is the pleasure that comes from reading a book by a poet that knows exactly when to unleash the devastation within the work. For me it was the mutations that kept happening over and over again. She works with city, with landscape, with motherhood, with the full dynamic of a woman that never closes her eyes to anything. It’s that strength in her voice that allows her to dip down to pick up another unexpected molecule, to rub a little grease or ink across your face when you look closer to the developing scene.
They write beneath / my fingers in the darkness, escape each time I / remove my hands. I sew them in. Still they / riot. You tell me – where do I go from here?
Where do we go when what is supposed to destroy us is unable to? In We are Procession, Seismograph Devon Balwit takes to the places that exist during and after the hands are removed from whatever dark acts they’re undertaking. There are points when that feeling shakes you, but that is one of my favorite things that good poetry can do. This is exactly the sort of poetry collection that leaves marks on your wrists and leaves you trying to figure out exactly where it is you’ve been taken.