loaded arc by Laura Goldstein

loaded-arc-front-cover-203x300loaded arc is loaded in the sense of full, loaded in the sense of fully stocked (with animals two by two), loaded in the sense of the proverbial question–full of presumption and blame, and it is arc in the sense of ark, arc in the sense of a curve, the arc of the waves, the arc of the narrative. The title is a hint not only at the content of the text, but also an apt preparation for the language play that continues throughout this work that in turn takes on the media, Hurricane Katrina, the flood, the notion of defining words, politics, and fathers, to name a few.

The title poem is subtitled “an unlikely romance between Noah and Katrina” and the next fifty pages parade with Mardi-Gras-float shaped stanzas; each page’s quatrain is a piece of the larger poem, but also a poem unto itself. In an ethereal narrative, the reader is delved deep into the deluge of both Hurricane Katrina and the biblical flood. It is a pairing and not a parting of seas, as abundant alliteration and subtle slant and internal rhyme demand that one “clear [their] throat before [they] deliver these lines.”

Riding in the wake of language poetry, each piece of the poem plays gently with words as they violently combine imagery to expose wave after lapping wave of the injustice, the impact, and the horror of the notorious hurricane. Whether the scope is pointed at the people who “mask the fact of some clouds in their high places” and don’t seem to see that “there is clearly room for action and alternatives can be planned” or the levee’s “weak wood / [that] will not hold back weight of water caused by waves” or the president who on “a roof…stood / made a speech disappointed, disappeared,” Goldstein’s eye is acute and aware of the angles.

This work owes to both Harryette Mullen before it and Gertrude Stein before that, though the syntax is Goldstein’s alone. Goldstein uses sound and sense in equal parts to create a work that is both as murky and mysterious as the dirtiest stretch of the Mississippi and as transparent and pristine as the clearest water of the gulf. Both enjambment and punctuation are masterfully used to create stops and starts that form multitudes of meanings. Whole thoughts exist both inside and across periods, inside and across lines:

pay to play, obey. two days until season
premiere. secrets revealed. sees
seize of your yearning. year’s resolutions
freedom in speed cable grounds you


commands culled from suggestions call for
construction. questions do not lead to
editing, only building. larger than
life-size images and surround sound

And commas do far more work than enforce pauses or create lists. They work to join and separate words and phrases that build meaning into very small spaces:

stop an ensemble in its tracks. around, lots of little red
birds couple and rest. the wind picks up clouds, they lounge
then land, perfectly planted portals, a parallel retelling
pushes renditions of “high way” through on the traffic report

Taking on the media, Goldstein’s stormy narrative is half told through the television screen, which is another apt metaphor for the shape of her stanza. Each square is a clip, a clipped narrative, a bit of news that “seeps into our homes as speakers / announce events at a distance.” The story develops in the same way that one receives news from afar, whether that be in the distant past, like the flood, or from a distance, like most of America experienced Hurricane Katrina. The storm itself takes on many media oriented metaphors as “waves upon waves of credits roll” and the “shore turn[s] over into static.” Goldstein’s work exposes the dependence upon media for what it is, “watch[ing] TV… is as regular as growing up talking to God.”

The second poem in the three poem collection is entitled “inventory” and begins much the way Stein’s “Food” begins, with a list, an ‘inventory,’ of words. These words are in alphabetical order and feel disparate as one reads them straight through. “inventory” then proceeds to labor into being a sort of fabulous dictionary that owes as much to Aesop as it does to Stein:

“this isn’t a game”, the snake started, probably
provoked by the owl’s half-hearted twitching.
the snake wanted a struggle, but the owl couldn’t
slip into that role, with no idea of how to be
hunted. on his way to being an umbra, he’ll only
haunt the hunting grounds of the snake, but it
will end up a great game for him, too, after all.

The stanzas have shifted. They are lower on the page, far less regular, with varying numbers of lines, but the syntax remains. Goldstein’s shuffling of words and subverting of grammatical expectation is ever present. Her masterful employment of alliteration to connect words and meanings is still stringing sentences together in a musicality that cannot be ignored, even when not read aloud. Despite the work that this second poem does to unhinge meaning and open the reader’s eyes to new understandings, Goldstein’s speaker insists “all realizations / are utterly regular.” This reader must argue with that assertion. There is nothing ‘utterly regular’ about the defining and redefining of terms taking place in “inventory.” A director is defined as “cleverly creating an imitation of people” and as one who “persuades an onlooker’s heart right out / of its vest.” Goldstein’s work here can be defined in much the same way, “cleverly [created]” and reaching for the “onlooker’s heart.”

The final poem in this outstanding first full length collection is an exploration into the notions of fatherhood, politics, nationhood, and war. The shortest of the collection this section has stanzas that pile and shift on one another, much the way generations pile and shift as son tries to become distinct from father. Opening the section with a quote from George W. Bush speaking about his own father sets the tone of this piece as not just familial, but political. As we all are aware, the personal is political and Goldstein’s poem reinforces that notion in the same unique register and rhythm of the other works in the book. The alliteration, the long line that gives the impression of prose, but is actually intuitively broken line, and the vocabulary of the flood, the storm all reappear in strength. The hurricane reappears in the language of war with “general storming, the stars on his shoulder” and “colonies clinging to a coast / shore of success.” The media reappears as a “radio rant” a him that is “on stage, but now he has his own show, and now his own / channel.”

Goldstein’s collection is inventive and intelligent. It is a great text if you have survived Katrina, if you are interested in media, if you love musicality, if you are an American, if you are a person alive in this tumultuous time. Goldstein is a unique voice with an ear for language that moves in both sound and sense, she, like “no, ah, ah,” “put[s] two and two / together” and we are lucky that we “now have [her] attention, for a moment.”

loaded arc is available from Trembling Pillow Press

Victoria Mansberger is a mother and poet who is nearing completion of her MFA in poetry from Louisiana State University.


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