If we judge this little volume, Sans, by G.L. Ford, from Ugly Duckling Presse, $14, by its cover, a simple white on white sideways affair resembling an invitation, we’d say we are well pleased. The feel of quality paper and a nice readable text make for a fine little package for poetry. The collection inside this package are worthy of the exquisite wrapping.
Sans is an exploration of memory. We are treated to meditations on personal memory, not so much an accounting of events, but more of an engagement with the act of remembering. Rich, thoughtful poems, untitled until the end of the book, quietly consider various aspects of the nature of recall. Furthermore there is an undertone of cultural memory when the poet taps into the Gilgamesh epic and includes six poems scattered throughout, entitled “Enkidu’s Lament,” which are numbered 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. There is no indication where 1 and 2 ran off to. Enkidu was Gilgamesh’s dearest (dead) friend and the spur that drives the epic quest for immortality which makes up much of the ancient tale.
The poetry here is often not direct, but it is always intriguing and, at times, beautiful. Each poem flows into the next, not always with seamless ease, but often in the way memory moves, suddenly appearing with jarring recollections that might best be left alone. The “Enkidu’s Laments” poems sometimes seem as interludes, and sometimes feel like explanations. The voice and language of the Enkidu poems are only slightly different from the rest of the collection. This cultural memory resonates and influences the work in these pages.
Mr. Ford’s language is careful yet full of surprises and hints at multiple levels of thought. “at the liquor of shellfish/ runnel from thigh to/ knee…” on page 12, “…our talk/ too miasmic/ to call conversation” on page 25 and “perceive, dirty/ with words, our secrets/ the relics kept/ to appease our ghosts” are just three examples of lines where the unusual word choice, coupled with line breaks, layer the representation of how memory works, illustrating how complex memories can appear to us.
At first reading the reader finds no titles on the individual poems except for the “Laments”. Each poem stands alone, some as short as five or six lines, some filling out a page at thirty, yet without titles they could constitute a continuous stream of consciousness. At the end of the book is the list of titles. Some of the titles are clearly related to their poems, others are more mysterious. Listing them at the end of the collection (not so subtly) encourages the reader to begin again and reread all the pieces. This may or may not have been the intention of the author but it is a very fine device.
Mr. Ford also brings much music to his lines. “What belonged to me/ and what dwelt in unlimited/ nightmare too much/ the same…” on page 43 are the insistent opening lines in an eleven-line poem, and that staccato rhythm of short then slightly longer lines (no line has more than eight syllables in this piece) bring the reader to this striking closing image: “…no more virtue/ in adversity/ than in brown grass shirking/ under yellow sky”
Read these poems aloud. They feel good, even the darker pieces (perhaps, especially, the darker pieces) as they roll out of the mouth: “go on not splitting/ into hungry flame” page 42, “Having arranged all my objects/ just so, the organic and/ the mineral in no obvious/ pattern…” page 51, and two lines that have the feel of an incantation “The rains – or/ the sins I’d left behind” on page 50, represent some of the many vocal pleasures of this collection.
We often talk about freshness in poetry. This is a fresh collection. There are fresh and striking images. The way the author constructs each line, brings each line into the next and then each poem into the next poem is refreshingly original. There is also much freshness in the author’s use of language. And while these poems are constructs of memories they are not at all a memoir in any typical way. This is a book to admire and to read several times over and to revisit somewhere off in the future as you consider the state of your own memory.