Pioneers in the Study of Motion
“Amid a riot of signals, cranes, and circuitry—from Mexico City to Antarctica—the reader succumbs to a sense of non-stop construction, to the craven expansion of cities in the glistening fields. In the chaos of sensory overload, the poet still manages to detect ‘droplets of pollen slip from anther to stamen,’ to feel a stream running dry inside. It’s a work of shuddering velocity—an ode, a screed, a lament, a love song of ‘pristine and inarticulate mornings.’ Susan Briante’s Pioneers in the Study of Motion details the ravages of the world in a voracious struggle to savor its sweetness.” —C.D. Wright
“Susan Briante’s poetry recalls aspects of Cesar Vallejo’s Trilce’s non-sequitur shifts that feel right but elude the univocational mind. Gary Snyder’s noun thing density also comes to mind in her sensuous, crosscut, traveler observations. This writing fractures, caesuras, and rends its way through a Mexican, American, international, indigenous present, achieving a density that, in language, works through our urban sign-loaded multidirectional scapes.”—Clayton Eshleman
Vertex of the Chrysler Building, pray for me; linemen, bartenders, muses, pray for me; crow covered highway, sing for me; over the bridge of a Washburn 6-string, lay me; crazed molecule! terse atom! play for me; with the moans of forklifts, speak for me; in satin, sable, calico, adorn me; squat propane containers of Bayonne, provide for me; as the kestrel takes wing, revive me, nimbly, sweetly, feloniously, devoutly; by signal post, by relay tower, restrain me; if Ember days, claim me; dioramas of Cro-Magnon man, stand for me; willow bough and spikenard, shade me; until 5 winters roll from the Sierra Madre, train me; Nahuas, Zapotecs, Huicholes, do not sentence me; Magellanic clouds, save me; arboreous morning hung on white adobe, enlighten me; with a high-strung C, redeem me; through clefts of granite, girder, limestone, release me; when the fuse is blown, seek me; do not forsake me; remember me
from steepled sea to shining
Copyright 2007 by Susan Briante
“Susan Briante brings vibrancy and precision to her image making with a language that thrives on sensual disclosures of subject matter and shifting after-effects of the unforgotten. Pioneers in the Study of Motion traces the unsettling of a life over geographies of what we leave behind, in forms of address at once alert to the vernacular of lyric thinking and to speculative pleasures that do not shy from accountability, aesthetic and ethical. Her practice compels argument—in great shortage across the alleged fence of U.S. verse writing today—and so makes a claim on a time lag: that of semblance in search of sounds assembled in such ‘slender forms [as] to express a large country.’” —Roberto Tejada
“Susan Briante’s full-length debut, Pioneers in the Study of Motion, is a lyric concerned with ethnographic importance, a work of architectural rigor that embraces the fluidity of culture while presenting a timely critique of globalization . . . . Her ambitious poems succeed in taking the reader through a vast highway of nativities, personas, and heritages. Land, language, and character become one in these poems and Briante writes in both first person and third person, mediating between observation and embodiment, between archaic and real . . . . Pioneers in the Study of Motion is an active book, full of poems that spark thought, inspire research, and leave the reader craving more.” —Erica Kaufman, from her review in The Poetry Project Newsletter.
“Briante can’t escape the things of this world and doesn’t want to; instead, these poems take stock, reveal, revel at times, and insist that the borders we keep around our thinking, our lives, and our spaces, insist that those borders are permeable: ‘There is Tupperware buried under that building. Tupperware and tuna fish cans and bulk mailings and dental floss and unmatched socks and dice and sppons and cuff links and office supply catalogues and bolts and coke bottles and combs under that building. / In the Holland Tunnel, tiles glisten white as alveoli. / The glass is wired’ . . . . The visions Pioneers in the Study of Motion offers are not like those of the Oracle of Delphi; they are visions that reveal the sweat, oil, guns, and work behind the next bag of grapes we toss in our shopping carts.” —Ken Rumble, from The Desert City Poetry Series blog.
“Susan Briante’s book, Pioneers in the Study of Motion, is new from Ahsahta Press at Boise State University. ‘It’s a work of shuddering velocity,’ writes C.D. Wright on the back cover, ‘an ode, a screed, a lament, a love song . . . .’ The velocity is that of an acute, lyrical intelligence darting from thing to thing, opening the poetic voice to a broad range of perceptions. I’m especially taken with an intermittent series in the first section of the book, ‘3rd Day of the Rainy Season,’ ‘5th Day of the Rainy Season,’ etc., which read as both an ongoing, submerged ‘ars poetica’/dialogue with the act of writing, a la Robert Duncan’s interwoven ‘Structure of Rime’ series, and a test of the ‘velocity’ that Wright mentions . . . .” —from the review by David Hadbawnik at Primitive Information
“The argument in Briante’s poems claim that this clusterfuck of imagery, violent as it is, composes a totality. The energized form of her poems shows how the fields persist within the paved landscapes. The poetic argument is that things don’t go away—that prior forms do not erase easily. Such knowledge of what lies below haunts present structures. A complex tension becomes apparent in Briante’s claims for cultural and urban spaces, and the tension is left largely unresolved, as it should be. Resolutions to the contradictory demands of commerce on the past might lead some to guilty quips about our implication in a mess inherited from shitty urban planners. Other attempts at resolve might construct a barking voice to move us into action—to somehow do the impossible by turning back time to a period in which America was a nation of yokels, plugged into the land. Briante’s more at ease with herself and with the contradictions of the present. Her work here simply asks for reflection on the belief and desire that motivate these circumstances of change. As ‘pioneers’ we, her audience, must remain open to experience and to the perceptive force of attention. Where such attention is placed—and how it orients us to things—remains our greatest hope for understanding the forms we inhabit.” —from the review by Dale Smith at Bookslut
Growing up working class in New Jersey, I had no models for how an artist should make a life—let alone become a poet. I majored in journalism at Northwestern University. From this came an appreciation for the documentary, an eye for blessed distraction: a superintendent’s lisp, patterns of ceiling tile. I found myself a “good job” covering school board meetings in suburban Tulsa. The flames from the Sunoco refinery lit up a not-too-distant sky. I lasted about nine months, quit journalism, and left the country for the next seven years.
In Mexico City, I worked as an editor and a translator for the bilingual magazine Artes de México. I read Benjamin and Lyotard on crowded collective buses sitting next to indigenous matrons in their huipiles, schoolboys in navy blue slacks, mestizo administrative assistants, earnest engineers with their English textbooks. NAFTA passed. I learned to recognize birds and trees in Mayan textiles. I labored through long passages on the iconography of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The peso collapsed. I fell in with a poet/scholar/mentor Roberto Tejada and his magazine Mandorla. A ski-masked rebel came down from the mountains of Chiapas on horseback. I started writing poetry.
I completed an MFA at Florida International University. Cesar Vallejo, CD Wright, Vincente Huidobro, Frank O’Hara, Robert Duncan, George Oppen, and Rosmarie Waldrop served as salve and stimulant. I went to Austin where I pursued an MA in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas. I moved to New York City in the summer of 2001. The towers fell. We wheatpasted Celan and HD on the bus stops and telephone booths of SOHO. For a year, I taught ESL and subletted my way through Williamsburg and the East Village. In 2002, I returned to Austin to work on a PhD. You can still find me there many days writing essays about half-built hotels, Civil War monuments, amusement park ruins. You can find me making poems at the Spider House café. I earn a living as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.
I tell my students that writing a poem is an act of political resistance. I worry that I have not yet had a baby; I check the prices on flights to Paris; I ride the light rail to work. On a good evening, I drink a tequila or two over ice on my porch and watch the grackles percolate through the scrub oaks.
When I arrived in Mexico I was stunned, inspired, the victim and benefactor of a strange education. But rendering an experience within another culture offers an anxious challenge. I read chronicles from missionaries, scientists, and poets, from Bartholemé de las Casas to Alexander von Humboldt. All experience became a foreign country. Everything had its guidebook. My sources for Pioneers in the Study of Motion include texts on psychoanalysis from the 1920s, on men’s etiquette from the 1950s, Vladmir Propp’s Morphology of the Folk Tale. Representation fails in terrifyingly beautiful ways. The “Eventual Darling” poems became my extended riff on the poetics of elsewhere, taking their inspiration from visual images: a photograph by Sebastian Salgado, a video by Stephen Dean.
As poets we craft structures of perception, affect, and ideology. I’m most compelled by work that evidences an awareness of this process. I’m no more interested in poems that stem solely from a clever intellectualism, than those that profess a naïve sincerity ignorant of the ethnic, class, or gender positions behind their creation. I’m excited by those poets such as Olson or Williams, who examine the culture they come from (and stand against) through a range of theoretical, emotional, intellectual, and historical lenses. As C.D. Wright explains: “I aim to carry the smoked-ham of my voice to the Beulahland. I do not intend to write as if I had not gotten wind of ‘this here’ or ‘that there’ semiotic theory, regardless of which if any one theory, prevails.”
Regionalism, like notions of nationalism, strike me as extraordinarily cliché. And yet in a time of Internet cafes and Fox News at airport gates, our relationship to our environment seems tenuous at a great cost to our physical, political, and spiritual survival. Most of us don’t know how to name the things around us, because there’s nothing in the market that requires us to have such an awareness. As my friend, the poet Dale Smith, reminded me: just being able to identify the grasses in the alleys can seem like radical knowledge. That feels to me like one of poetry’s strongest imperatives: to provide us with vision and vocabulary.
The poems in this collection may seem to cover an ambitious amount of territory from Antarctica to Kinshasa. But then again so does the scope of our lives. The title comes from an exhibit on the work of photographers, such as Eadweard Muybridge, who first captured animals and humans in motion. There’s something about those series of images that seems apropos of the best poetry. It is a matter of doing more than just freezing a moment but observing it in relation to what comes before and after it, a deeper gaze that allows us to see beyond what the eye can register.