The End of April and National Poetry Month, part 3: To Keep Love Blurry by Craig Morgan Teicher

To-Keep-Love-BlurryI must say that I did not enjoy Craig Morgan Teicher’s third collection of poems.  That is not to say that they are not technically brilliant, that they are not impressively raw and honest, nor that there are not many moments that just knock you open. I admire it greatly; however, I do not like it.  Even Teicher understands the sadness and dysfunction and sourness inherent in his verses.  Here is his dedication:

To Cal and Simone–you should know that it’s a lot more fun than these poems suggest–
and

for Brenda, who knows…

Brenda is Teicher’s wife, who makes many appearances in the collection (actually throughout his work– his first collection was entitled Brenda is in the Room and other poems.)

To Keep Love Blurry is tied together by two major themes. One his mother and father, particularly after his mother’s death. And two, his marriage to Brenda, their (apparently) special-needs son, and Teicher’s sullen acceptance of love.  Indeed, for Teicher love–both familial and marital– is more of an anchor than a source of flight. Here is he about motherhood:

My wife is not my mom. My mom is not
my mom. My father is not my mom. My boss
is not my mom. She is a tooth with rot,
a flower pressed between the pages of a lost
book. My son is not my mom. She is a mare
crushing my skull beneath her hoof. She is forever
starved. I ride to the edge of the earth clutching her hair.
Get it over with. It’s never OK, not ever.
Fuck it, whatever.  If Robert Frost is my mom,
then so is Robert Lowell. She taught me to talk.
She is where I’m headed, a bomb
crater. She forgives me like a hunting hawk.
Maybe she’s my boss’s boss, my wife’s other other lover,
my son’s midnight cough. She loves me like a brother.

(“My Mom, d. 1994”)

The perfection of form–a modern Shakespearean sonnet with A-B-A-B…rhyme scheme, a regular rhythm, an unusual octet, quatrain, couplet construction–is made inconspicuous by the language, the odd identifications of motherhood, with unusually negative words: “tooth with rot,” “a mare crushing my skull,” ” a bomb crater,” “my wife’s other other lover.”  What exactly are his feelings?  “Loves me like a brother” does not cut it for me.  Perhaps the secret lies in the allusion to Robert Frost and Robert Lowell.  Teicher quotes a Lowell poem as an epigraph to his collection:

“Those blessed structures, plot and rhyme–
why are they no help to me now…”

Perhaps Teicher is saying that the “blessed structures” of poetry–with which he is extraordiaryily adept–are no longer to sufficient to buoy one in the sourness of modern life.  Here he is similarly on friendship, marriage and love:

In just the couple years since two by two
we all began to partner off,
already we’ve practically retired, passing though
apartment doors shut tighter than a cough.
There used to be long, wasted hours of talk,
nothing secret between us, not even skin;
at the conclusion of a wandering walk,
the flirtatious dark would set in.
Is marriage lonely by design,
in hopes that obeying an age-old law

of I am only hers, she is only mine
forms a brittle scab over the always-raw
wound of too much intimacy between friends
in favor of a duller aching that never ends.

(“Friendship”)

Again, the “plot and structure” to which Lowell refers are exquisite: a Shakespearean sonnet, intricately wrought and patterned. But for the speaker, the poetry is subsumed by the “duller aching” and “brittle scab.”

Mixed among the villanelles and sonnets, the rhyming couplets and the longer verse, there is a series of prose ruminations on the death of his mother and the subsequent loneliness of his father. These too are notable for their raw honesty, their unflinching introspection.

Well-wrought and linguistically daring, To Keep Love Blurry is evidence of Teicher’s impressive talent. However, I found it sullen and pouty and self-indulgent. Nevertheless, such is Teicher’s poetic cleverness and adroitness that I will surely keep my eye out for his future work.

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