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What the Trees Go Into by Marcia Southwick

13/04/2010

What the Trees Go Into by Marcia Southwick
Burning Deck (1977)

Few things compare to a letterpress chapbook, especially those from Burning Deck. Here, in Marcia Southwick’s debut publication, the reader is first confronted by the simplicity and beauty of the letterpress cover design (the trademark of Burning Deck), then with the surprising heft of such a slim volume, and finally with the outstanding quality of the writing itself. The perfect balance of the book as a physical artwork and the book as a work of literature.

There are several joys of finding such a book at your local bookseller, but a few in particular are reading the colophon page and examining the review slip (which came with this particular copy). Here’s the colophon note:

This book was designed and printed on Warren Antique by Leigh Dingerson. There are 350 copies numbered 1-350, and 26 copies signed by the author and lettered A-Z. This is copy 235.

And it goes without saying that the 235 was neatly hand-written in the empty space left by the typesetter, which in this case was with blue ink. The review slip of this book is particularly interesting. Here is an excerpt:

A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Marcia Southwick is now a fellow in the Ph.D. program at the University of Missouri. She edits, along with Larry Levis, a new literary magazine, The Missouri Review, whose first issue will appear this year…

It’s difficult to imagine the contemporary literary landscape without The Missouri Review, and it’s strange to think back to a time when Larry Levis was an emerging writer who spent some of his time starting up a literary magazine.

Book-as-artifact aside, this is truly an astonishing poem, which the review slip summarizes as a long poem which takes some of its material from The Golden Bough and Radin’s African Folk Tales. The poem centers on a female character’s courtship, marriage, and eventual death. Here’s the first section of the poem:

I. COURTSHIP

The last snow
is lifting itself off the awnings
and I am thinking

if anything is bleeding
I do not want to see it.

In some ways
I am like the woman
who sends out her soul
in the form of a wasp

and in some ways
you are like the man
who catches the wasp.

When he closes his hand,
she sleeps.
When he opens his hand,
she wakes.

Now I can hear the rain
being quietly released
like grains from a sack

and I can hear you talking:
the tribes
who molded their skulls for beauty
used instruments
no more ingenious
than the common mousetrap

and remember,
in some villages
when the hunters leave
they make their women sleep
facing the direction
of their departure

and Goodnight; then you leave,
tying a live bird
to my bedpost.

Promise me something.
Tomorrow, when you come back
to release the bird,
please make it carry
my fever along with it.

*

There a few copies of What the Trees Go Into on abebooks for around 25 dollars. And The Olives of Oblivion suggest that you get while the gettin’s good. Burning Deck books are becoming more and more collectible, and in book collecting, the ones who wait are those who pay the most. If you’re the dog-earing, a-book’s-just-a-book type, then fear not. This poem was reprinted in Southwick’s first full-length collection, The Night Won’t Save Anyone (University of Georgia Press, 1980), and can generally be found in paperback at abebooks for less than 10 dollars.

*

The Olives of Oblivion was  an anonymous site dedicated to contemporary poetry that ran during 2008. The critics have permitted The Owls to revisit the essays.

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