Huge Cloudy by Bill Carty (Octopus Books, 2019)
We find, post-storm, the sky
aspiring to hold more planes
than ever before. Everyone
on errands. Their traffic
wakes me. Late for class,
again. Late for everything.
(from “The Decisive Moment”)
“Do you not think this is ominous of good?” opens Huge Cloudy by way of its back cover¸ via the ever-so-floating curiosity of John Keats. “Ominous good” or elsewise may be slightly ajar, not quite the right phrase, as Seattle poet Bill Carty’s debut collection is more premonitory and mildly uplifting. It is a book announcing the fortitude of our relational continuum, a book that rubs up against the inner fibers of a poet’s momentary hallucinations of truth and distinctive realization. It is a kind, large-hearted book of gasps and furrows.
Huge Cloudy and its settings of epiphany and arousal range from the Pacific Northwest to New England, and occasionally otherwise in-between or beyond. The book geographically honors the human experiences through the lens of a poet’s poet, guffaws and glances of the microcosmic decision-making of keeping-going and emerging-through. It establishes early on a literary momentum kept in check through the quintessential contemporary fumblings of Carty’s world.
It is liquid
more vernal, some fluid settled
in the lowest region of the zone,
a depression shy to motion, a basin
I arrive at, thinking, this really is despair.
(from “Not a Moat”)
Each one of these poems, short and long, and of many spectra, is at length capable of filling the five major sections of Huge Cloudy with wax museum precision. A careful balance of the literal transcription of experiences and the fluffy, aerial methods of abstraction and blur bring about the phantasmagoria of Carty’s craft. It is a loving dreamscape bumping up against a casual gritty, an untiring reality of urban and rural American life shadowing and reflecting the same each poem’s speaker’s arousals.
The lauded effort of psychological bend within the writing is both cautionary and attractive, challenging but accepting the comfortable, spacy reality of Seattle and periphery. There is confrontation and exquisite examination. Perhaps the wash of the gray of the city’s usual skies accounts for this; or perhaps Carty’s background as a reader and editor of countless other written voices throws his own into flux and measure one and the same. The arrangement resultant of this causation, whatever the source, gives off air of fulfillment and a juxapositional sense of ambivalent fervor. When this reality shows its face through the bright and bland ether, Carty’s witty writ emerges to capture like a photographic flash:
a vision of sudden death
though when it comes to that
all anyone will talk about
is the bees.
(from “The Quick”)
The epiphany of these poems extends itself beyond the experience of the poet into the realm of life at large. It is document and repository of emergence into the world. Where is discovery? Where is surprise? Where is the magical and important around each and every breath and step? For the daydreamers, for those that align with Carty’s positions, with mind in out of the poem and a poetics rooted in each and every step, discovery is everywhere. Carty’s book serves inadvertently as a lesson book in this imaginarium, in this stomping ground for the emergence of livelihood and delightfulness.
Often, the life and delight of Carty’s field is supported by quasi-hilarity, quasi-horror. Often, it is acceptance following newness. In his longer, splicing sequence emerging after the first third of Huge Cloudy, “Aurora,” Carty describes the break and bend of expectation and constriction: “A sign / on the steps— / NO SITTING / ON THE STEPS. / A man sitting / on the steps, / giving me / the middle finger.” Moments like this, derivative of the many absurd intersections in the Emerald City, appear regularly and at once bring humor and breathe life into an otherwise static and muffled space. Clouds move. Humans move. Carty’s poetry is a poetry that moves simply by being.
The night was humid.
We stood by the burn pile
and did nothing. It felt like
the last thing we should do.
(from “All is Retained Which has Not Been Surrendered”)
Movement is representative in the size of that which this collection represents. But the size of what? Huge Cloudy is not solely of the clouds. The hugeness is derivative of the collectivity that we all face—together—in these cascading days of drama and threat and love. The bonding arises out of many spaces. Carty shares where comradery and a shared effort may be fueled by that which is depressing, that which is considerably challenging.
In “The Desired Change will Occur,” a poem mid-way through the collection, Carty writes: “No color. No playground. At times, it seems / we only know each other / by a thread, but we love that thread.” Later still, near the book’s close, an indication again of that collectivity: “Forget the utility / of the heartbeat— / more often, it’s a sign, / and we have been known / to chase a good symbol / around Cape Hope” (from “Mutual Fish”).
Bodies were bearable,
then borne subaquatic
through sky’s reflection,
caliginous green clouds
around the underwater lamp,
black shadows of seals
and passing schools.
(from “Too Many Sharks”)
These instances of solemn network and uprooting revelry are well-balanced with Carty’s placement of himself in Huge Cloudy, and they reveal mature measurement. There is more cause for writing, more reason for existence, than flourish and description of the bountiful beauty that surrounds us. This collection thus may be a kind test. It may be a book kept close to inspire and corral, may keep us fluidly on our backs staring up at life, waiting for the next vision to arrive and spur us into some flickering agreement.
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All reviews by Greg Bem unless marked otherwise.
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