Pleasure by Brian Teare

Addressing an epidemic that is still out of control and claiming lives worldwide, Pleasure represents Teare’s attempt to create a language for the politics of loss.

 

Much like his second collection of poems, Sight Map, Brian Teare’s third collection of poetry, Pleasure, is an exploration of landscapes. Rather than a pastoral inquiry into the nature of the erotic, the beloved, doubt and faith, however, Pleasure concerns itself with a thorny Garden of Eden (“a graveyard garden schemata”). Teare’s Eden is one marked by the death and pain of a body infected with the recent historical consequences of the AIDS epidemic and the intensely intimate suffering it has caused. The title of the collection is striking because, as the content of the book makes all too clear, sex, for all the pleasure it provides, can lead to the ultimate punishment: death. The book is an elegy and a dialogue containing cut-ups and collages; many poems refuse to distance the “I” from impersonal and universal lyricism as the book is about Teare losing his partner to AIDS. Through the fallible nature of language and form, Teare explores the destruction of the beloved in a fleeting and terrifying material world “where flesh, untenable, suffers” against the will of the lover.

 

In the opening poem, “Dead House Sonnet,” it is this refusal of traditional form and proper syntax (“like bark that smoldered the garden in winter”) that heightens the impetus of the poem, which is to understand the dis-ease felt by those members of society who do not understand—and often refuse to try to understand—the torment caused by AIDS. The term “dead house” symbolizes a dying body, a feeble framework “made…to come down, trashed.” Language is the medium through which we understand and make meaning; Teare exploits the reader’s expectation that language will offer meaning or truth by corrupting sentence structures (as Gertrude Stein often did, touting “language for language’s sake”). The poem directly addresses the act of writing: “silence : writing : then sirens.” In doing so, it indicates the urgency with which the speaker wants to understand the loss of his beloved in a world of “lavish tragedian shadow[s].”

 

Another poem, “Eden Tiresias,” is fragmented in both form and content: “the field tilted and split / forth meant two ways,” writes Teare. It is composed of three parts, two independent poems that when combined create a holistic third. The formal fragmentation augments the speaker’s inability to understand death, sex, and meaning through language––he is not able to fully comprehend the world around him, because it is scattered in parts, and it isn’t until he gathers these parts that the whole comes into focus. Part one, subtitled “I am the sign of the Letter,” announces the subject matter: “Because there was no punishment / like fucking.” It is the sexual touch of the other, which Teare presents as spiritual, that leads to infection and the beloved’s ultimate fall from Eden, which in this case represents his leaving the material world. The absence of the beloved is addressed in part two, when the speaker states:

 

[after] fuckless months, fields lain fallow. I lost him [where the]

…Self and Other,

and between us every elegy, all the fallen

language that couldn’t hold its own

and wouldn’t give it back, had no flesh

except how long dust keeps our alphabet.

Here, loss and mourning are heightened by lines flushed to the right margin. It is in this marginal location that the speaker grapples with the pain of loss that language cannot locate or identify; this correlates to the devastation AIDS has caused, as so many of its victims are politically and socially marginalized homosexuals. In the third and final section, a Hegelian synthesis occurs as parts one and two are combined to create a re-formation where the fluency of spirituality and loss mingle into a whole––a new meaning of lyric tragedy. Part one begins, “No seed. Flat beneath my hand : / bone. Pelvis a field but no seed.” Part two begins, “Mons : venus-field held horizon by sharp / fuckless months, field lain fallow. I lost him.” When combined in the third part, the poem reads:

 

No seed. Flat beneath my hand :

mons : venus-field held horizon by sharp

bone. Pelvis a valley but no seed :

fuckless months, field lain fallow. I lost him…

 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “pleasure” as a “condition or sensation induced by the experience or anticipation of what is felt to be good or desirable.” Teare’s book is an inquiry into musical lyricism’s ability to cause pleasure. Rather than being awakened by gratification, however, the reader experiences the torment that want of pleasure can cause. Given Teare’s own history with AIDS-related tragedy, this collection is highly personal, but it is also highly political. Addressing an epidemic that is still out of control and claiming lives worldwide, Pleasure represents Teare’s attempt to create a language for the politics of loss. The collection embodies Eden’s lush landscape, but dismantles its womb-like reputation—one which distances truth and reality—using the turbulent “lyric [which] has no mind // it wouldn’t barter for certainty.”

Brian Teare

 

Pleasure by Brian Teare, Ahsahta Press, 2010.
Reviewed by Dean C. Robertson.

 

More Brian Teare:

Buy Pleasure at Amazon.com

Learn more about Teare and read his poems at The Poetry Foundation

Read a Q&A with Teare at the Poetry Society

Visit Teare’s official web site

Visit Ahsahta Press, Teare’s publisher


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