January 2011
A review of

Under the Quick

by Molly Bendall

Central question: Can poems change their language as fast as a poet can change her mind?
Prior books by Bendall: After Estrangement (1992); Dark Summer (1999); Ariadne’s Island (2002); Bling & Fringe (The L.A. Poems) (with Gail Wronsky) (2009); Bendall’s current hometown: Venice, California; Bendall’s childhood home: somewhere in Virginia, whose Southern waters and plants (she says) inform the poems here; Section titles: I. Causes and Cures, II. Windward, III. Adventures on a Raft, IV. Blurry Evidence; Representative sentence: “Pathways, paving stones, // and yeasts come out of the sea // longing for attachment / then billow their wanderlust.”

Quick is right: Molly Bendall’s speedy, enticing lines set up a world where everything passes by, and nothing remains. On the one hand it’s elegiac, often wistful, leaving us nothing that we can preserve; on the other hand—so her allegretto passages of consonances imply—it’s full of exciting discoveries, transient joys. “No waves, so spread your blanket / on the grass,” she says in “Farm Days”; “Talk like a tree // so you’ll find / the honey business winging / that nowhere-look.”

Deliberately ephemeral, Bendall’s phrases do not so much resist clear paraphrasable meaning as flirt with it, then run away: “Come shy beetles,” she teases, “have a show down… while the morning spews its threads / to the evangelical finch shunned / by a clique of finches.” The poet herself shuns evangelism, shuns doctrine; she cherishes glimpses, hypotheses, and passing scenes. Flying insects are her favorite symbols, though she also lets “owls peer into our lives”; “someone’s belongings kept secret in the flower’s core” become “a blemish / for a habitat of moths.”

Half the poets in history have made carpe diem, the fleetingness of all pleasure and all experience, one of their themes; few books weave that theme so tightly into a new style.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Stephen Burt

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