Noose and Hook itself is a tearing and mending of identity and verse. Both are the noose and the hook, suffocating readers and at the same time grabbing and snagging their attention.
Lynn Emanuel is a poet who challenges the lyrical “I” to a word match. Philosophical inquiries, particularly the poet’s struggle with language’s deficiencies, are her strengths. Frances McCue fittingly describes her as “someone who opens and closes the shutters of identity, using the music of regular speech to switch personas.” Emanuel’s poems are like the shutter of a camera: quick-witted metaphors and similes flash on the page and surprise the reader with sharp images inside a darkroom. Noose and Hook, Emanuel’s fourth book, challenges the poet’s identity, as her readers have come to expect her work to do. From “Personal Experiences are chains and balls” to “Who Iz Dogg?” and “Dream In Which I Meet Myself,” the poems pose the question of how to break free from the chains of the “I.”
Emanuel’s collection employs forms such as monologues and epistles, while often engaging in metapoetics. She begins, deceptively, with the poem “My Life,” however, this life is a complex one composed of murderers, bystanders of crimes, desperate writers, dogs that are sick of being dogs, and teachers giving advice to their students. Lines such as “How heel over head was I hurled down / the broad road of its throat” or “I howled / at the door of my own mind wanting out of that empty house” suggest loss of control. The speaker is trapped within his or her own mind.
Emanuel furthers this notion in the section, cleverly titled The Mongrelogues: Two Acts. The language of the “mongrelogues” is that of a dog, as imagined by Emanuel, and her stylistic choice of the lower case “i” is one of numerous examples of her battle against identity found throughout the book. In the poem “How Dogg Got Its Name,” she adapts one of John Berryman’s lines: dogg says, “Life iz borin tho we must not say so.” This is a fundamental revelation in Emanuel’s collection. What is left to write about? Disappointment in language itself is a continued theme. In “Hungree?” dogg observes “bad dogg iz / terrible too small words / fer all the thorns an willies uf this world.” In the speech of “dogg,” we see Emanuel’s attempt to match her form (the creation of phonetic words) with her content (dogg’s recognition that his words are not enough to capture the world). Emanuel uses this technique elsewhere, too. In “Hello, Mallarmé,” she writes about Whitman’s style while imitating him: “lines that cannot decide / if they are crowbars for rending and tearing or sutures for holding the wound together.” The conflicting imagery of tearing and mending words represents the poet’s struggle with the form itself.
Noose and Hook itself is a tearing and mending of identity and verse. Both are the noose and the hook, suffocating readers and at the same time grabbing and snagging their attention. While Emanuel’s previous work made room for personal narrative, as in the elegies for her father (published in Then, Suddenly), her latest poems seem to distance themselves from personal narrative. Readers will appreciate the tension in lines like “Dear Line, Dear Sinker, / Noose and Hook, / Hello” and, long after they have been taken, Emanuel’s images will flash in the darkroom of her readers’ minds.
Noose and Hook, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. Reviewed by Monika Zobel