Shya Scanlon, In This Alone Impulse
Publisher: Noemi Press
2009, 68 pages, paperback, $15
shya scanlon’s in This Alone Impulse challenges the conventions of line and form in poetry. The poems in this collection stick to a form of seven unbroken lines. The width of the page gives Scanlon all the space he needs to turn phrases and ideas. Traditionally, line ends have been a place to create and play with expectation, but in Scanlon’s poems, he uses the wording of short sentences and questions to challenge expectations. Take for instance this progression of sentences in “Unassembled:” “How could you? How could you let that speak to, let / me be spoken? How could I’m not this garbled turn on no one’s turf, a sour smelling sun, another runner?” Scanlon takes a banal question and makes it new by turning it in the questions that follow it, ending the poem with “How could I’m not less lonely?” These questions show how the poems play with sense and force readers to re-read to understand the layered meanings within the sentences.
As the book progresses, the sentences in the poems become easier to grasp. The wording of the sentences is not as challenging; but, because the earlier poems create an alertness to words and word order, these more straightforward sentences are read with more attention. Like learning a new language makes one more aware of the workings of one’s native tongue, reading the playful and challenging constructions of the poems in the beginning of the book changes the way the rest of the poems are approached.
Several of the poems in the book deal with the subject of entering: “… Something pressed, is pressing, / will not let comfort strip and enter us, bend us inward”; “I’ll ask that car to enter me, passing what can pass for / me, what passes for me in stages”; “I’ll ask that bothering to enter, without / light, and become.” Noticeably, things are asked to enter on several occasions. The idea of inviting entering creates a connection between the reader and the speaker of the poems. As readers ask to be entered by the poems in the collection, the speaker asks to be entered by a car and bothering. Similarly, the poems themselves, with their inventive syntax, are an experiment in entering; the meaning of one group of words enters another. The poem, “Unassembled,” is an example of the way meaning overlaps the boundary of punctuation much in the same way meaning extends across line breaks in a poem:
You came and I was lonely. You came and it was sunny, rained, rained.
You came and I can count you. I can spell you. Don’t come again please.
I need more feeling than, more thinking than. You came and I’m a
mumbled number. How could you? How could you let that speak to let
me be spoken? How could I’m not this garbled turn on no one’s turf, a
sour smelling sun, another runner? How could I’m not less lean than,
a feeling of leanness? How could I’m not less lonely?
In the third line of the poem, two clauses stop before naming what the speaker needs more “feeling” and “thinking than.” However, the tension created by these two unfinished thoughts is resolved in the next sentence: “You.” Because two incomplete thoughts precede the “you,” the “you” seems to be the inadequate other that the speaker is referring to in the beginning of the line. This is an example of how Scanlon uses syntax to create tension where another poet might use line breaks. The effect feels more true to the emotional experience in the poem. As the speaker moves forward trying to articulate his needs, the clauses are broken into short, separate phrases that mimic the pauses incorporated into the speaking of difficult revelations.
Overall, Scanlon’s poems take our expectations of poetry and reorder the words that form them. His book is a diverse collection, covering relationships and reflection on the self, along with humorous interludes. If you enjoy poems that are rich with play and experimentation, you should read Shya Scanlon’s In This Alone Impulse.