We Lack In Equipment & Control by Jennifer H. Fortin
H_NGM_N Books, 2013; 56 pp
Reviewed by Matthew Guenette
This is the first poem—untitled, as they all are—in Jennifer H. Fortin’s latest collection:
A great snowstorm & maybe
you will not apologize
for the details you use in order
to sponsor your other details.
Snow a giant detail I want
to point out, but there’s now no one
living with me. How fast
each morning alarm, although I’m faster.
An interesting parallel between narrator and reader startles this poem into being: both are left quietly and alone in a particularly uncertain moment, working out whatever revelations a set of details will allow. Yet this privacy is fraught with the spectacle of audience, and it is on the strength of this relationship—between the private and public—that We Lack In Equipment & Control finds its heat.
That sense of unnamed business—as in the above poem’s hint at a discord between lovers—is both the rush and catch of the aesthetic choices Fortin makes. In the more formally experimental poems, time slows by way of smart enjambments and deft spacing, a move that allows for something like awkwardness to become its own poetic turn, its own grace:
I would never say
what actually is.
Nervy as congress. Press the nerve
& reaction. Hostage
of assembly or freedom
of nerve. It’s your
turn, your lot turned by intent to weapon.
I urge you, nervous all-
y, to fight
for my agenda.
This slow motion poem, and there are several like it in this collection, might be among the best in We Lack In Equipment & Control; its turns turn haste and stress, the reader’s literal descent down the page, into a character. And this character bristles with a strange privacy (“I would never say / what actually is.”), but the mood of this poem—fierce and defiant in those last three lines—bursts forth in an undeniably public display.
I am tempted to say that We Lack In Equipment & Control is a book about masks and subtle shades. Readers who desire an obvious, sustained intensity of emotion and/or clear poetic triggers will find their desires deflected at times. No doubt this will raise the question of whether or not Fortin is an ironist, a poet who keeps her distance because she knows how easily intense emotion and poetic occasion can turn sentimental. Regardless, what We Lack In Equipment & Control does for sure—foreground artifice as a means to both provoke and embrace yearning—it does exceptionally well. For this, this new collection deserves attention.