Poetry Review: Static & Snow by Brian Henry

Image via Black Ocean
Image via Black Ocean

Static & Snow by Brian Henry (Black Ocean, 2015) is a winter jaunt, a snowstorm wait-out, a look through the frigid and the sparkling. It’s as overtly playful in its language and topics as it is pensive, reflective, earnestly introverted. It may be your first foray into Henry’s wide scythe-full of styles and lyrical arrangements, but this short book is a strong representation of the author’s many capabilities as poet, thinker, and human.

No horse to guide
or pull me out
of, no horse to ride.
Dawn comes to he
who’s stuck in place.
Dawn comes.

From “Winter View” (pg. 23)

With the winter season of 2015-2016 rapidly moving outward and away, it’s hard to write about a book that’s so covered in frozen fields and snow-clumped forests, icy sidewalks and visible exhales. It would be a challenge to recommend a read through Static & Snow in any time other than the coldest. The book is a phantasmagoria of chilly imagery featuring speakers who are found mysteriously responding to even more mysterious wintry situations. Encounters with these scenes are brief and dimly lit, but exquisitely arousing, in the same way the minimal amount of sunlight, comfort, and answers in the winter season is arousing.

I pull at my face,
at the branch in my face.
Am served a sodden song.
Swerve ridden wrong.
There are no eyes for this.

From “Winter Songs” (pg. 46)

Despite what I expected to find within the pages, this volume is not so much a book about death as it is a book about challenge and difficulty through transport and seasonal transition: where we put our feet when treacherous landscapes surround us; how we manage our time when the climate and the patterns of weather demand us to be still, burrowed, isolated. An energy sits within these pages. Henry brings forward over and over spaces of action and activity, movement in a world demanding the counter, demanding stillness.

instance of movement:
you’d enter the water here
and if not pulled under
would emerge so far downstream
the crossing would require
another journey entirely

From “River Crossing” (pg 17)

The poems within Static & Snow follow various arcs and routes from start to finish. In some cases, we have traditionally singular poems affording a haunting absence, a dismal minimalism of space and time. Within the short and the brief, Henry’s speakers experience moments of crises, astonishment, epiphany, and yet the tone behind the words is often at conflict with the duration of the poem. More questions are asked than answered; a lack of content affords for more confusion and a lack of resolution, but a thoroughness presents itself through the temporary. This philosophical approach, this choice in aesthetics, can be viewed in Henry’s other works as well. It’s a signature Henry knows well and arguably one of many strengths for a poet who appears to love provocation, entrancing the recipient of the speaker with cause, effect, and the greater, resulting questions.

Dead when you hang him
dead when you drain him

The body a tesseract
by virtue of angle

The floor here is tilted
please step away from the blood

From “Winter Pasture” (pg. 73)

Also in this book, Henry has crafted several serialized (or fragmented) poems broken up and split apart. I’m reminded of icicles or blasts of wind: the winter’s sequences of engagement giving energy a name within a harsh or caustic environment. But despite the harsh, despite the tension, these poems more methodical and well-paced in nature. Strangely, I’m reminded of deeply introspective Emersonian walks through New England woods, and what the individual finds on those walks. What is encountered in the irregularity of life despite the human need for balance, of shelter? Often the speakers in Henry’s poems, be they within the strings across multiple pages or the punctual, singular instances, are finding the ironic moment of reaction: a sense of peace through engagement, stability following action. Attempts made at engaging the world in order to understand it. Though Henry’s book rarely evokes references to “horror” (as a genre or concept), what bubbles up, what arises from within the vague settings and situations, comes off as a response to something similar to horror, to paralysis and the environmentally superior, the circumstantial beyond. These are clearly emotional and humanistic circumstances existing beyond but best represented by the winter season. As Henry’s opening to Static & Snow reveals, winter is not the only question, that which we struggle with in winter affects us greatly in its opposite:

We trumple the lumpen
summer muck, tracked
by an angry grackle’s
grace note: it strangles
our stride, our stricken,
sickly stride, static
in that string of song.

From the entitled opening (pg. 1)

Beyond its headiness, Henry’s book is also joy to read. The sonic qualities inspire an oral reading of the poems therein, which appears like a rarer and rarer effect from literature in the growing 21st century. From slow and quick rhythms to barrages of assonance and consonance, much within these poems exist as active viscerally as they are active mentally. Static & Snow is as much a crashing through the surface of the frozen pond of the mind as it is a pelt in the back of the neck with an ice ball. Poets and believers of poetry deserve both types of experiences.

Learn more and/or order this book from Black Ocean.

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