Cover image for If in time : selected poems, 1975-2000
If in time : selected poems, 1975-2000
Lauterbach, Ann, 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Poets, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiv, 253 pages ; 24 cm.
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PS3562.A844 I35 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Ann Lauterbach is one of America's most inventive and admired poets. Since the mid-1970s, she has explored the ways in which language simultaneously captures and forfeits our experience. By turns elegiac, fierce, and sensuous, her musically-charged poems subvert distinctions between narrative coherence and fragmentary elision, between outward attention and inward response. Throughout, Lauterbach questions the hope for personal agency within proliferating fields of cultural and historical event. If In Time brings together selections from each of her first five collections, as well as an exhilarating group of new poems.

Author Notes

Ann Lauterbach is Ruth and David Schwab III Professor of Language and Literature at Bard College. Her work has received fellowship support from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation. She has published six collections of poetry, including If in Time: Selected Poems 1975-2000 .

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Reading Lauterbach is like trying to keep up with someone whose legs are much longer and who walks with a compulsive urgency. The reader must simply forge ahead and trust that all will become clear as the poet talks into the wind, and bits and pieces drift back onto the page. Odd juxtapositions transpire as Lauterbach mixes the testimony of the senses with philosophical musings and dreamlike scenarios. Her poems are high-strung, intermittently beautiful, shrewd, melancholy, mysterious, and charged by the need to communicate and the refusal to simplify. This cerebral yet poignant collection gathers 25 years' worth of Lauterbach's puzzlelike commentary on the frisson between experience and thought and the stubborn pursuit of the elusive truth about the human condition. Over the years, Lauterbach's poems have grown warmer and more welcoming, until, in her newest work, she leans close to the reader, makes eye contact, and even slows down now and then, eager to share each glimpse into each pressing moment. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The most apt comparison for Lauterbach's career is to that of Jorie Graham: the two MacArthur fellows are near contemporaries; use free verse and open field composition to tackle the philosophical implications of travel, art and relationships from a post-feminist perspective; and are influenced by and in dialogue with John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Susan Howe, Michael Palmer and other poets one often finds, cheek-by-jowl, in Conjunctions. Yet though Lauterbach examines her materials and methods much more closely, her subjects and perspectives are thornier, and she has not garnered major critical attention outside of the academy. This book should change that, as readers gain easier entr‚e to her five books and to an eponymous set of 19 new poems, organized counter-chronologically. Beginning at the end of the book with 1979's Many Times, But Then readers will find Lauterbach trying out Schuyler's discursive simplicity and Ashbery's early virtuosity, which form the basis of Before Recollection (1987), and are subsequently stretched out, recombined and brilliantly reimagined for the trio of Penguin books from the '90s: Clamor (1991), And For Example (1994) and On a Stair (1997), the last containing a brutal "Valentine for Tomorrow": "Light in the window (a quotation)/ is how we notice/ discrepancy hello, hello, I forget incendiary fuel/ tearing the roof off the house, rats from dream/ acquiescent cloth draped over the little town's vocabulary." New poems include an intentionally didactic "Diorama of the Uninhabited Yes," definitionally sweeping "New Brooms" and a mock "Splendor" in which "atavistic goons clash/ at the edge of the park" and leave us cheering ourselves on: "Rah! Rah!/ as the struts of tomorrow fall to the ground/ as tears arrive from afar in new boxes." Lauterbach's unsparing investigations blink through the contents of those boxes with remarkable force; fans of Graham, Seidel, Carson and Palmer should take note. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One     TEMPLATE An exhausted prostitute sits on a white puritanical bed small in her dress, her eyes orientally sad. In the window, the green light of a pond gives order to the universe although the male child, nine, asks what is that? Knowing bed, dress, sad, window, green and light, having some notion of the pond, not inquisitive about the universe because he knows that too (it is where he is) what he asks of the scene is the doll. A garden is an idea. It is not plants flourishing in good soil, not the edible dream, not mildew in the cusps of mulch, not Celtic glory--Cornwall, the Isle of Man, the Ulster ballads                     sad tunes of the blue-eyed musician (the sky keeps returning to the pond (when I was a girl, there was a garden there were steps these steps went down into magic as in a story where what is is changed by language) singing a garden is an idea .              And the soloist's avidity, her song before the morning din: trucks, warplanes, pickaxe, churning air into lament and dust, as if waking into the final cause the soloist, transcribing these findings, is puerile without history which is also an idea. to Henry GC, later     SEPTEMBER SONG But we cantilevered across the ruins                          love in Lagos Hollywood                                   but we            photographed radiant            in suits                                  but we                             clasping the bright entitlement of things Illusion of quilts, including the barn door and the rake to the extent that birds are outside, and all the tricks of film-- magic of space caught as dots, two installed as particulars close to each other, their intimacy achieved by the practice of something manipulated so that it is almost, but not quite, real.   To work quietly, seriously, productively            yellow hinges isolated from drift              companions in patience, lost                     in the stars. The virulence of the age surrounded a small thicket of romance. The people, bagged in rain, fell up and up into the basket-weave sky. Somewhat like this, the mechanism of the day thwarted our progress, so we spilled out bereft of purpose. Fist of red leaves; a mild gray wind. These old-fashioned contingencies shamed us but the new had no agenda, no secret plan or past. A young girl traveled swiftly over long grass into the inquisitive mode: Have you got a television? Where are your children? She seemed to understand the value of fruition and the cost of abstention. Cartooned in the distance she ran as fast as she could, hands crowded with coins borrowed for keeps. The old enemies began to encroach, even as we sat on a roof across from the crenellated tower and watched a toy ball fall into a drain as the day swerved up a brick wall into night's dump.     TYPOGRAPHY Stalled at a lectern, a habit or price. Snow fill and blur and the sidelong currents from no direction, the direction of news spun into an appeal for the evident to withstand the friction of use. The incentive of a backward glance improvised the hour so as not to punish its advent, in which a child first emerges and a woman makes a reservation on a train. These pop from the calendar like songs. The girl in pearly shoes knows to please                     which is how she begins to move in the atmosphere of the heaping snow among discontinued genes anonymously strewn. Things she can and cannot do. The scheme pulls apart but nothing spills except an arsenal of thinnest lines on an unopened note, fluid below the fledgling ice, not yet wholly dissolved. Certain acuities float slowly off the bridge. These she calls derision flare, reflected apex, ninth plunder, depending on the wind, its correction as fate. But nobody, in the sapphire spray, notices. What are we to call the thing that pulses along but does not connect, a mute heart? And what about the person who is guided away from us, what to call her? Snow ruins the echo of its fall. You cannot hear the small dust or liquid elicited, near as can be, along the eyelid of time. How pretty she looks under the covers while stamina fails. Stamina is this world plus another.     DIORAMA OF THE UNINHABITED YES And here, an exaggerated arc --see how its grin exceeds the joke-- and the featherweight drama                                                liability of the newly wet                               swelling the planks The list, old among numbers, could be six, seven , among these it could be ideology skulking at the corner of an age star-struck, emulating, singing along with the tune that smell of sweet perfume                               among numbers, filtered into the humid                                      high summer air                            mouth open, lips in sync, and the question comes up dropped into the street below-- It could be Caravaggio or the fleshy belief he inscribed, dense filiation of desire, and so a mythic arrangement is in order here, among these numbers, a story decision on the back lot. So he comes toward her and says would you have a look at this script? could you cut my hair? would you mind lowering the shade? The answer The direction of the first bed The task And now look, far is near, next door is another century whose shape reconfigures the topography of care. It seems possible to notice a harem gathering around the stump, wearing boas and slacks, whispering into the dust. Shall we address their dilemma? The anticipated part is only part of the assignment, part two is the repeated motif of law. The nurse said be prepared, strip . And we thought, given this premise, that she had seen the thing slain and the unshared part dealt out among strangers, those in the park, those in a boat, a few wandering across a bridge. But this never happens in the city, only usual begetting as the slant bends into a curl, the curl a parenthetical remark or eyelash on the pillow of dawn. Riots in the capital. Europe destroyed under its canopy of culture. This moves across the threshold into that because the wind's fitful economy parts only debris, laying claim to the moment as if it were a lucky number pulled from a hat.     WALK Mistakenly on the other side's side: walking along. Thinking this must be change, this discomfort. Walking as on an island, the mausoleum across the yard. Thus: a span, uncluttered, available: the dark. The dark yard's discomfort, the breeze withheld. Picturing and then being the picture, the still. A red tugboat trolling, near the dam. The dramatist walking by the taxi. No one waves. Here we accumulate. One, two, among. There were, of course, too many stories yoked to the original, too many collisions under the scaffold. What we thought about seeped back under the foundation, to become itself a kind of mud, luminous at night, during the quiet night ride. We were in the uncomfortable stage, the eighth month, its enormity a kind of pathos, the garden bloated beyond enchantment. Over there, across the bridge, another group gathered, spying on the generations, summing them up. Right, they attested, sure enough. Nobody had time to vote, and those that did, did for reasons only the Op-Ed understood. They were testing our right to continue. We pretended to know. But then there was the uncontaminated filigree of skin, youthful through an extra pair of glasses, classically wide-eyed, the world as yet undiminished by the burden of its authors. That old hymn, remember? Among the disenfranchised nothing stirred, and the silt went easily over the new spillway, and the moon extended her rights of passage down into the arroyo. Not belonging was a kind of errancy, a bluff seen by others as refusal without implications. In the room there were small movable tables. In the room there was a pair of shoes. In the room there was a book on the floor. In the room certain things were missing. In the room there were no mirrors. The radio's episodic dial. Bourgeois affinities of the newly polished leather. The writer-in-exile speaks candidly to the reporter, eating nuts. Modernism ends. In the room music went on. In the room a table was replaced; it was not a museum. A flag fell across a stamp. Unpleasant expenditures, body odors, tears. New regulations undoing privacy. Saturday. Lake Committee meeting. Call from Martin. Second call from Martin, no number. Joan's scent in the hallway. Rick's unhappiness with what he wrote. Second book received with compliments of the author on a printed card. Torrential rain. First parking ticket. Call from David. Call from another David. Call from Thomas. Full moon. Small yellow pill. Small red pill. Note from Elaine mentioning J. Crew. Refusal to stay in room 205. Aggressive male child in the park. Mary Ann quotes René Char. Idea of Prose. George and Mary sailing. Sincerity and sailing, a remark. Lilacs. Lost Wax. Cookery. Genius as economy without waste. Pictures without captions. Pictures of persons without names. To excerpt the ordinary from splendor, the affluent cloister, trapped in a small luminous box in which everyone knows everyone else. Could drop some names from the glossary, delete a few consummations while dressed in fatigues, the fatigue of need, the accepted norm, sorrow and reality, the loved person dying, the leaves lapsed, drawn forward with autumn's litany of perishables: book bags, shirts without monograms, the if-then date. Is it wise to abstain? Such is the city's grail that the hum is expansive, shorn from prevailing silence and entrails of light. Crave thee this dialogue? This touch? Is an allegory of-- Let's walk a little into it. David says that generation had something we lack, a calm mind . David says perhaps only those from another country can combine the rhetoric of feeling with I have forgotten the rest.     LEGACY     1. I am thinking again of drab fly cycles roof mumbling harmony up in attics beyond deliberation I am stunned (young man, you have ruined this phase (I am thinking the window is rotted and the flies are crafting their music under a single nude (seen thither and yon in as many particulars: the alert dust, the carefree bonanza of a city (waiting in the dark by the side of everything paused under a shaft little pool of blood on the curb pink discrepancy of what we imagined was terror: then going on into the hills beyond the mall's crude angles road stretched counting the characters not yet proven, not sold, not released into what we had seen: old visitor, hawk, I am waving good-bye.     2. Shadow range ekphrastic renovation of a spoon without shelter the thing delighted is kept to follow the once that, once said, was inscribed on the tongue to ask from the margin will you come to the incident's call open the blinds spill sun in his mouth hope's flagrant shine cast back to its arbor stain on the dress new twenty-dollar bill malleable space on a page of trials clairvoyant current under the paved clues to the meaning in the feathers of slang passing a note from fever to ash     3.     Yes and here     distributed as acronyms for praise, small     attributes     here all along the way, as if marshaled, testimony calibrated under the horn so that we had seen in a leaf the Spartan vagary of time, its credentials,          here lasting under the last permission sought, its style coming around as a decision to stay one or three days          here not as the recuperating genius of an age not as the swooning female not as the hieroglyph bomb but ask who is here, who speaking-- Mr. Predictable Rage & Ms. Predictable Doubt dance the Predictable Rag.     4. Excessive and volatile, from which all detail is omitted. Film me in costume. I want to be a soldier. We went to the local store in search of thread. That is all I recall of childhood.     NEW BROOMS Of representation ( frame ) from one to another ( use ) between the articulation ( space ) of language ( tree ) of clarity by means of ( intent ) of humans ( speech ) on the contrary ( response ) with itself, in its own density ( earth ) for it is not ( image ) from the first to the second ( wave ) seizes upon ( law ) within the other ( us ) without those of ( tradition ) point by point ( nature ) of or to ( the same ) and so on into a possible good the waxed carnation's cribbed flounce shade distinctly wound among new brooms panache of the ever-tan September And so what is said is at an angle architectural over the floor from which the soliloquy drafts         upwards, as if restitution              could be a chant surrounding disaster. Bruise on the arm lingers in absentia. Buzz saw in the alley. Speech, oracle of intention, dissolves into the sea's remission as up through an imperfect net comes another exaltation.     2. Some here twitch along a heading, out out, and came thou back along the periphery, shroud tracked, foregathered, tune integrating chorale tautly drawn into rainspit, down through the breaking mirror's reminiscent shield, bethou said the maiden, bethou said the monk. Not yet , said the bird, elongating distance, high among pines and pale rock. But had we spoken of the quarry? Or were we in a room, video-taped, among dry towels and the humid inquisition of the crowd? We were in the crowd, "you and I" "he and she" and so transpired over its edge into bodily harm: an eye for a hand, some mantra of war. The stipulating crew began to assert its origins and what pale and what golden shimmied into paradox, whittling the streets with monograms, the walls with cool but generative dust. The pictures came back from their instants. A genetic stroke of luck is not to have this receptor. Yet another instruction, one we still cannot read. to Thomas Dumm