Other Acreage by Becca J.R. Lachman
Gold Wake Press, 2015; 78 pp
Reviewed by Paul French
All the way back in 2009 Cole Swesen and David St. John introduced readers to their big American Hybrid anthology with the idea that much of contemporary poetry was defined by porous borders. All the camps dividing various schools of verse, they claimed, had been unpitched--leaving the huddled masses of poets to ladle inspiration from any part of the melting pot they wanted. What could be more, as the title of their book ascribed, American?
But, despite the age of that anthology’s portent, I don’t think I’d read a complete collection that fulfilled prophecy and fully embraced stylistic diversity until now--because there’s no doubt that, when you read Becca J.R. Lachman’s recent Other Acreage, that’s what strikes you. Lachman will go from New York School to confessionalism, from prose to lyric, and from found form to projective in a matter of pages, without much rhetorical scaffolding. It’s frankly kind of refreshing to see a collection that, though thematically cohesive, isn’t afraid to deviate from (when you get down to it) the fairly rigid expectations of the contemporary ideas of the “concept book.” It seems like many poets (myself included) view poetry books, even experimental ones, as the repositories of patterns. And if a poem doesn’t fit with the “pattern” you’ve selected for the book, you toss it out. Ironically, what gives Other Acreage a sense of naturalness is its defiance of a sense of natural pattern. Sure, there are certain threads I could point out, certain tropes that recur in Other Acreage, but even those are widely different from each other in meaning and manner; it’s like if you spliced clips of Citizen Kane together with When Harry Met Sally. This formal variation is, of course, a risk, and, if you’re like me, you’ll find it jolting at times. But I found myself loving the unpredictability of style here.
As for the cohesive themes I mentioned, Lachman is tackling subjects of family, religion, and the self’s relation to both. Because of the formal variety, this review would span pages if I went into the strategies and meanings Lachman deploys in these themes’ service. I will say though that the strategy often involves seeking a rupture of barriers--between past & present, between self & others; we see this idea emerge wonderfully in the early poem “Rumspringa,” one of those sticky poems you’ll always land on while riffling through the book, even though it sits in the beginning. Titularly akin in theme, “Joinery” is another poem like this.
I recommend picking this one up. It’s something different, with formal variety and virtuosic writing to give it substance. Give it a read.