Companion Grasses by Brian Teare
Omnidawn, 2013; 112 pp
Reviewed by Clinton Crockett Peters
I came across Brian Teare's quiet little book with linguistic punch at the AWP book fair in Seattle. Companion Grasses strikes me as the poetic accomplishment of what seasoned lit crit Donna Haraway advocates for in When Species Meet. Haraway writes, “The Great Divides of animal/human, nature/culture... [should] flatten into mundane differences — the kinds that have consequences and demand respect and response — rather than rising to sublimes and final ends.”
Normally I wouldn’t size up a creative work based on its scholarly achievements, but I am impressed with how conscious Teare is in his aim of examining conceptual boundary areas. Teare’s title harkens to Haraway's premise. Both subjective and objective as well as revelatory and inquisitive, Teare is conflating and compressing nature/cultures. His poetry is rooted in what Donna Haraway calls the messiness of mess mates.
The look of Teare’s poetry is sporadic, disjointed, limbed. The poetry reminds me of impressionist art and contemporary lyric essayists like Jenny Boully. The lines also remind me of grama grass. The phrases crack and separate like organic tubular structures, one part distended in the next — amputated yet connected. The broken apart stanzas and sputtered words are integral to the book's read-feel:
better explains how to say
anything where to put each word
so it lives differently in relation
to the real as it dies.
Teare keeps returning to this matter of communication, what he calls the "matter gap" between words and their origins. Many parts of Companion Grasses are a meta-awareness of the writer’s self-appointed task. In “Little Errand,” he writes, “I gather rain / in both noun / & verb. The way / the river banks / its flood, floods / its banks, quivers / grammar I carry / noiseless, easy / over my shoulder."
This self-awareness gets complicated and darkened, a gesture that feels more honest in the post-Romantic, (almost) post-treehugger world, “Santa Lucia Mountains behind us — what is ‘lyric’ — hawk, we thought — (Raptus from rapere, ‘seize’ or ‘rape’) — / its passing shadow triggered / chill as it touched us — / Crow-sized, a harsh loud scream.”
Other themes include the illusion of choice, the frustration of representation, and the uneasiness with structuring a bridge between form and matter. Teare’s project is both refreshing for its earned jadedness and companionable because it seems to be poetry that has recovered from the blood thirst for irony. Teare is earnest, but not in the doe-eyed sense. He has problems, structurally and philosophically, but he’s trying to work them out on the page gesturing towards vulnerability. His lines are raw, bewildered and bleeding and yet point at times to the unsentimentally hopeful.
I believe nature writing needs this kind of poet, one who doesn’t eye-rollingly try to bridge the nature/culture gap and sing “Kumbaya.” Teare rather positions himself as a resident in the space, a liminal figure in an increasingly messy, borderless, hard-to-define biosphere.