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151 sonnets about motherhood.
Counterpath Press, $15.50 (paper)
The 151 sonnets in Laynie Browne’s collection are the products of 151 one-minute intervals that the poet eked out of her life as a mother of the two boys to whom the book is dedicated. For Browne, motherhood demands a revision of her relationship to time, and, in this way, Daily Sonnets is a descendant of Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day, the epic of a mother’s single day. When Browne announces, “I’m a poet with no preparation / Only invented moments,” she might be apologizing for or justifying her practice—one that, in other hands, could blur the line between self-pity and art. Browne avoids this pitfall by opening herself to collaboration with almost anything—her children (whose voices appear in lines such as “Daddy is very friendly”), the dictionary, the news, foreign-language poets, Oulipian procedures, and chance operations. As she transmits multiple frequencies of discourse—becoming, as she outlines in the book’s closing essay, the “permeable ‘I’”—the poet becomes difficult to locate: “You might have written this / I certainly did not / but don’t let that stop you.” There is a perversity to pushing the logical restrictions of open form, and this book asks: what happens when the collaborating poet lets more and more “others” do her work? Light is the model for the permeability that Browne’s poems aspire to: “My practice is nowhere near— / yet I hold it up to light / The whole world is made / of bugs I say.” The poems titled “Love Sonnet To Light” are orienting points in a collection that resists continuity. Nearly thirty years after Bernadette Meyer, Browne claims that the poet-mother has just as much to say, and even less uninterrupted time to say it. Broken voices are forced to hold together simply by their proximity on the page. Browne wants to be mother, artist, and political activist, but her poetics grant each voice only one line in the same, short poem: “Be monster, bug, horse / I am slowness compelled to utter / With half the world’s oil.”
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