Franz Wright
Jenn Morea
Ted Pelton
Susan M. Schultz
Amanda Nadelberg
Standard Schaefer
Matthew Cooperman
Ed Taylor
Coralie Reed
Gretchen Mattox
Mark Rudman
Ales Debeljak
Simon Perchik
Bendall on Wagner
Schroeder on Mullen
Thompson on Gibson
Minor on Tran
Rippey on Hannah

Sarah Hannah, Longing Distance. Tupelo Press, 2004. 61 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by P.B. Rippey

The poems in Longing Distance, Sarah Hannah's debut book, are those of a poet in the throes of a canny search for self. Whether Hannah’s focusing on myth, art, sex, or comets, the "round and constant sound" of a city market, or (yes) green chard, her examination of "the air behind the air" makes for fiercely original poetry. Nothing is too mundane to offer the possibility of self-discovery. Even the depths of a linen closet reveal oblivion ("You could not ignore the space / At the back, the absolute black / In the bowels of the shelves, beyond the patch / And blanch of gauze, the catch of clots — / That unflagging question (past cure)…").

She frisks synonyms for human content. In the clever poem "You Furze, Me Gorse" (furze and gorse being the only true synonyms in the English language per Tennyson, Hannah informs us), the poet swiftly personifies her subjects, then challenges the difference —distance — if any — between them. "Raise the lamps high," she orders her subjects, "let us look at ourselves." Her concluding lines are both questioning and familiar ("Furze, Gorse. Which cuts worse? / The claws that grab and cling, purpling the skin, / Or the sudden spike that stabs and runs?").

Sarah Hannah is interested in "raising the lamps," turning over her subconscious like one might a stone and illuminating the scurrying bits beneath, probing the distance "between where you are / And where you were / The avoirdupois difference/between the emblem / And the thing that made it." Her poems depict a private sense of self at large in the natural world, the cosmos, the subconscious and pitted against an "unasked-for inheritance, / A fluke in DNA." She's driven "past text to precipice," as she searches for meaning and, ultimately, "a source, a proprietor at bottom."

Stylistically she is bold, unafraid to marry lyric to narrative, to tweak a villanelle's imposed structure in order to better address her subjects. She is a mad physiologist, and as we peer through her glittering magnifying glass, we are captivated. Hannah poses questions of self and purpose via the Horsehead Nebula, Lethe's dank prison, a star-nosed mole ("Sometimes you think / It has nothing to do whatsoever / With your self proper, the proper self / You've pulled, propelled, and pronounced / Out of the earth; it gets in the way / [Dark loam tunnel]").

The author is not without her sober conclusions — she's well aware that mortality is inevitable. Nowhere is Hannah more ready to throw up her hands than the poem "The Comet is Worn Out by the Sun" ("…this comet has quit, / Has carried your dross in its limp, dusty tail, / Hybrid of friction and angst, on a course cursed / From inception. No sense clinging to it; / The answer is annihilation. You first."). But self-annihilation is too obvious for Sarah Hannah.  The voice in Longing Distance is wry, but hopeful; clever, but concerned, as the poet explores a distance that is deeply felt, yet literally out of reach.

P.B. Rippey’s poems have appeared in Zyzzyva, Solo, Pool, and other journals.



(c) 2005 Slope. Slope is ISSN # 1536-0164.