Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit
Birds LLC., 2012; 63 pp
Reviewed by Kyle McCord
Emily Pettit's Goat in the Snow stands as perhaps the most atypical do-it-yourself manual one is likely to encounter. The titles promise to answer such conundrums as "How to Stop Lauging When You Laugh at Inapporpriate Moments" or even "How to Hold a Tiny Eye," but what one finds in these syntactically skittery, playful poems is an answer to a wholly different set of questions: What is the danger of fixed preception? What's the liability inherent in the way we become knowledge? "Becoming information/is not necessarily a choice" writes Pettit, then a few pages later adds "We are not devout logicians./We are logicians nevertheless." This sort of midthought revision and self-denial Pettit cultivates seems apt in a book where the speaker aspires to be "an eye rapidly moving." "No we will not survive the travel. Yes we will/survive the travel," insists the speaker. Here ambiguity and denial become just part of the speaker's response to this anxiety over the false congruity that perception seeks and imposes. The response also comes to life in the syntactic forms of the book. Anaphora leads to fragmentation. Narrative is thwarted by seeming nonsequitor.
The poems are peppered with direct repetitions, which seem to mark time, and an increasing obsession with obscuring and discovering. The tightrope act of variation is a thrill to watch. But, if for no other reason, read Goat in the Snow for its penetrating queries, which become more exacting as the book winds into its third section: "In what direction do you look/when someone says something true?" the book asks us, and "Is this what loving/someone is like? This looking at someone doing/something and doing something." It is this struggle with the way perception betrays us, how patterning lengthens the distance between sign and signifier, which occupies so much space in these meditations. "I myself would not recognize a mongoose,/but I know the word mongoose and I know it refers/to an animal, a mammal," elaborates Pettit in the book's title poem.
This book is populated with fire trucks, paranoid spiders, and droves of animals. But what unites and makes this first collection remarkable is its willingness to return and reengage its own questions as the work evolves. "I know/about the impenetrable system of communication/and I say let's destroy it," the speaker insists. Goat in the Snow is fraught with difficult and provocative questions, but as the speaker notes, "Everything is tricky and I like that." Appropriately, it is Pettit's own nimble trickiness more than anything that makes this volume such a delight.