A Review of Barbara Cully's Desire, Reclining

In Desire, Reclining, Cully weaves philosophy, mythology, history, memory, loss, and the self into poems that flow and beckon like water. These elegaic prose poems create the effect of ocean upon the mind--they are meditative, expansive, uncontainable even as they are formally contained.

The book is organized into sections that count off their poems in numbers, like the passage of time, like breathing.  We are lulled by the counting, and could easily get lost in the vastness of the ebbing words that follow.  The section titles help us keep our bearing, guide us along a life, toward the inevitable coming to rest.

Cully's images range from minotaurs to transitive verbs, silk threads to computerized rocketry. It is this range that primes the reader for moments of prophetic wisdom. "A world is the impression left by the telling of a story." "Fire progresses by destroying the form of its fuel." However, the speaker of these poems is much more of an observer; the speaker seems to be outside of time, witnessing life, quietly processing forms, ideas, events, and lingering in desire even as moments pass the speaker by.

Desire, Reclining is gently meta-poetic; the poems are aware of themselves as constructs of language, of their place in language. "We know that to mortify is a transitive verb." "Cutting the sentences in the way thoughts break off mid-finish." Because of this, language becomes almost character-like, a creature shaped, cut, transitioned, just like a human. Faced with poems that reference language in this way, the reader is reminded that these poems are highly crafted representations of circumstance and not the circumstance themselves; that there is a necessary distance between the voyeur and the subject, that what the poems contain cannot truly be confined to words on a page, that they will always flow in and out of form, filling up and rolling off on their journey through the expanse of time.

Cully's understated poems explore form and function as they reflect and embody human experiences of loss, memory and history. Language is in us, it shapes us. "What is in you is called form; what it makes of you is called desire."

--Elizabeth Falcón

Barbara Cully is the author of Desire, Reclining (Penguin, 2003), The New Intimacy (Penguin, 1997), Shoreline Series (Kore Press, 1997), and That Place Where (Kore Press, 2011). She is co-author of two textbooks, Entry Points and Writing as Revision (Pearson, 1996 and 2011). She has received fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and has been Writer-in-Residence for the YMCA Writer's Voice. She has taught for the Prague Summer Writers' Program and Kaplan University, and currently teaches in the Department of English at the University of Arizona.

Barbara Cully will read at the University of Arizona Poetry Center on September 1st, 2011 at 7 p.m. with colleague and novelist Manuel Muñoz. The reading is the first in the Poetry Center's 2011-12 Readings & Lectures Series, and is free and open to the public.

Created on: 
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Arizona Board of Regents