Stone & Type, Cedar by William Allegrezza
Lavender Ink, 2019
86 pgs, $18
Somewhere North of Jackson: William Allegrezza’s Stone & Type, Cedar
Review by Garin Cycholl
Robert Macfarlane writes in Underland that what we need is a “language of spores.” With Stone & Type, Cedar, William Allegrezza is already well onto that language. Through poems that sometimes feel untethered from geographical horizon, Allegrezza’s verse dissettles and recenters its readers—on and into the smaller sounds that pass between us.
Allegrezza is a southern poet, though not in the sense that we anticipate. He explores the spaces between us in their dense unspokenness, akin to what Hank Lazer refers to as a “Kudzu textuality.” Allegrezza’s poems in this collection, however, reflect an unwinding pause for words, silence measured against place. He grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, went to school in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and has continued to sharpen himself as a poet in Chicago. His work not so much travels Highway 61, as Interstate 55, the burnt and weedy hollows between. The map gone to fragments, cultures gone to seed.
These geographies came home to me as I traveled through the Mississippi Delta with Bill about fifteen years ago. We were finishing a collaborative long poem, Aquinas and the Mississippi. We wanted to locate a space, physical or sonic, that would mark that end—perhaps a Natchez doorstep or a parking lot in Baton Rouge. It was a great drive as the stories unwound around us. I grew up on the edge of a particular south, southern Illinois, a detached geography of counties who sought to secede in the Civil War. I was always digging around in time. But the geographies of Bill’s South extend beyond north/south and downward into the rough-edged sounds of human experience; they entangle deep time, memory, and narrative. As we made the drive south from the Memphis suburbs, through Clarksdale, and into Vicksburg, we were in a constant search for the River, the dead channels that mark its migrations. Some of the starkest moments from that journey involved just sitting along those abandoned channels; there, we pointed out what the waters had left behind and wondered if the River would be coming back around again. Here, Bill’s poetic geographies are as much about the stammerings poets prod and explore in sound. What can be voiced as you step into the woodsy ruins of a town along the Natchez Trace or hear the cicadas across furrowed Poverty Point in eastern Louisiana? This journey, almost asemic in recall, was as much in time and language as it was in place.
Oddly, these poems in Stone & Type, Cedar feel like some of Allegrezza’s most autobiographical poems, although the “i” here is diffuse amidst the movement of not only memory, but natural spaces and phenomena. He writes, “still, / i wonder about geography and try / to distance myself from you” (22). The tension here is how much memory and language will hold, while words and water run through the spaces between that “i” and “you.” “but we remain under / eaves listening to / voices muted through / rain on pebbles,” Allegrezza writes (17). Though what do those voices “sound?” “i have replaced the old words / with what can be,” he writes (18). In “sibyl leaves,” he adds, “(we) only / know what / we / have forgotten … and it is gone / when we speak” (24).
These poems are measured against a distinct North American displacement—Mississippi’s deadened river channels widening into Great Lakes prairie. The geographies are significant to Allegrezza’s work in terms of that displacement. How does that “i” measure itself against these opened spaces? How do the poems find language within and for that new measure of place? Most practically, what name does one use for a weedy place sunk in temporary water around “here?” Allegrezza explores that sense of “here” by tuning our observations to the movements within the nonhuman world. What names do we give to the disappearing spaces between us? The language (and accompanying silences) seep within and through those observations, as much lost place as time.
Memory in these poems is diffused not only in time, but in space. In “particular,” Allegrezza underlines “the / distance is / relatable / as is / the here / alone” (37). In that distinct “here,” caught between Mississippi and Chicago, the poet gathers the stuff of place—“birds landing on branches. / concrete falling from old bridges” (44)—although what (or where) he feels is the distance between natural movement and memory. In “remembering the pearl river, ms,” he recalls, “i remember it as / as a trail through deep woods” (66). Can the poem map memory? He continues, “the elementary is a / guess here among the flowing waters …meanings allude me, / but i feel a / direction and follow it in mind” (66). Place presses back with disorder; “prairie grasses and water / hold the area together … as the patterns of / chaos emerge” (48). The poem holds on for life in a “here” struck by a measured, yet hesitant, human voice.
This is an old chaos, plotted before by Wallace Stevens, though not with boots as rooted in this insistent “here.” Allegrezza echoes, “(we can / trick our imagined space / into being)” (49). Like Charles Wright, Allegrezza also maintains a hesitation about exactly how the human voice emerges within place. He seeks “a space to reconstruct the / sentence for now” (51)—the human voice emerging from some space between time and not, “somewhere out beyond us” (53). The “i” (particularly “here”) is “a / watcher waiting in time … a collective eye behind / glass dwelling within my cobbled self.” (71). Against this, the “you” confuses language’s depths in place “without sensing the loss / at bottom” (80). These poems gather a remembrance of place’s movement against memory’s own interior shifts. The voice tries to catch these movements in language.
There, “on the prairie, one must / watch the wind” (54). The poet’s song is tuned to movement. The river moves away from him in memory and space. The words that Allegrezza finds are rootless yet insistent. Tied to the prairie’s open spaces, these poems establish themselves in this temporary “here,” “a / small point not covered in our / geography” (67).
Bio:Garin Cycholl is the author of the forthcoming novel, Rx, a story of assumed identities set in the northern Midwest. His other recent work has appeared in Rain Taxi and the Chicago Review.