Listen Before Transmit by Dani Couture

I was planning to include this collection (Buckrider Books, 2018) in the omnibus reviews I’ve been doing lately but I have been savoring its slippagy patisseries of sound, its taut realistically-underpinned emotional palette and its metaphysical embroideries much longer than I’d anticipated. Not that I wasn’t a Couture reader prior, but this book soared me beyond her other publications, possibly because I’ve read a lot of Ashbery since and so was more able to roll with and even revel in her image (if not especially tonal) shifts and allusiveness.

Reading M Travis Lane’s dated but still relevant critique of Robin Skelton this morning from 1976, I came across this valid statement: “Poets today veer between two failings: the trivial and the maudlin.” And yes, because of the fear of the sentimental, the emotive, more poets now (and I would say this is EVEN more the case in 2018) turn to tossed off sketches of not-so-very-much, a bit of this and then the other, here we go round the mulberry-esque bush and what’s that, a spaceship made out of sponge cake and an astronaut tootling on a post-structural flute? The trivial is safe. And it can be very well-crafted with a full stamp of approval on it from the necessary departments. So, darned hard to critique even as you’re tipping it in the bin. But that is not what is going on in Couture’s poems. They, in fact, avoid the trivial and skirt the maudlin while still holding place for the Model T and CCTV at the same time.


I like what Mary Dalton says in her back jacket blurb (and I rarely pay much attention to such pufferies): “A deft collage of syntactical fragments….uncertainty, estrangement and disconnection…but there is also a countermusic…” And although Dalton goes on to note that the counter music is designed for connection and coherence in the subject matter, for this reader, the music was more a way of writing true feeling notes on the scale amid the intellectual, apocalyptic, urban-ennui ones. The blocky poem Prototype: “Whenever a shadow crawls past, we look/up….Here on Earth everything stands/for one thing, or what it used to be. Atomic/placeholders. When someone dies, we can/say they were reorganized…Tell me, how did/you keep splitting only to become one thing?” (& a perfection of line-breaks too!) The heart-rucked lyric Mother, Order Octopoda: “Once in a recovery room, I reached to touch/your damp crown, counted what remained: three/ hearts, one hooked beak, the steep slope of empty/ space beneath tidal sheets.” Or the extended couplets of Sympathetic Strings: “…fish strung like bunting…Jumping a ditch /and clearing a small, undiscovered sun…And yet, these bodies resonate….Here, as we wait, listen: the wind threaded/through another winter’s wrecked shack.” I hear driftings of Anne Compton and Karen Solie, but with more quirks of scholarship and less dry arms-lengthness. I also loved Red Eye, Minus Time, Forecast and imagine other pieces will creep into my poetry-avid braincells and veincells and heartcells on my next read. I would have ended on Last Days or Contact rather than the less memorably blammo Transit of Mercury, but that’s about all I have to resist in this real listening before transmitting black box of what is and is and is.




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