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Omnidawn Publishing, $15.95 (paper)
“I was thinking of the things / I thought / I needed” concludes Richard Greenfield in his second collection, Tracer, having previously observed in the same poem that “Self-alteration is an easy transaction / of buying the very selves / we always wanted to be.” But, while some consideration of the interplay of commerce and subjectivity does motivate the collection, the reader has to step outside the framework of the self as consumer and commodity to appreciate the full complexity of Greenfield’s work. Tracer is much larger than an investigation of self as accumulator and accumulated, encompassing meditations on the self as sensor, filter, and as tracer—in military parlance a lethal, glowing projectile that illuminates the dark, which it defines and is defined by. In “Hellfire,” he writes: “the act, the trace embodies // the pain of pain; narrative // shrapnels into its spectators // the aftermath a red fountain // (post-ethic) font, flashbang of // the untitled, the still unframed // concussion (the firstlight) or // the casting of my soul.” In their ontological campaigns, Tracer’s poems take it all in by collapsing distinctions between natural and artificial, center and periphery, suburban and wild: “I hear a faint frequency / in the clouds, near the speakers and / the hanging panels of a false ceiling / . . . / un-tapped desire is encoded there / all of the hype swallowed and gagged / it costs too much.” When not shredding the mundanity of our sprawl-plagued lives (“loud nails in the drywall / leak autobiography”) or upending the sterilized (“I lifted the screen and / set the little excess loose to the night”), Greenfield’s speakers foray into what remains of the wild in poems that grow out of hikes or other escapes to the fringe and beyond: “here in the outskirts // nothing I do is witnessed, nothing I build lasts, I am happy.” Broad in its comprehension and wide in its awakeness, Tracer doesn’t lapse into casual irony or acquiesce to the quick fix of consumer culture—nor does it deny those forces their appeal and might. It is a surprisingly nimble, quietly important book.
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