You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake by Anna Moschovakis
The following was written for a literary website which, for administrative reasons, did not publish it. In lieu of offering any new insights into this collection, I’ll just reproduce what I wrote last month and did not get published. I was really straining my intellect for an academic-y voice, so I’m gonna go ahead and apologize now for any gratingly pretentious diction you may encounter.
Owing to my recent foray into being employed, I find myself with what I could only describe as the cash version of a “hot beef injection.” For that reason I felt obligated to help out when I received an email last month saying that the St. Mark’s Bookshop in Manhattan is in danger of closing. Poetry is often very expensive (not unduly, as many poetry books are true objets d’art) so I’m not much in the habit of buying firsthand and, despite having visited the store many times over the past four years, I’ve never actually bought anything there. But the email urged me to buy some books to save the store, and even though I’m cheap and I prefer the act of owning to that of spending money, I also like feeling self-righteous. You and Three Others are Approaching a Lake has been on my wish-list since Coffee House Press put it out earlier this year, so I snatched it up and now I am a good person/single-handedly saved a threatened New York City landmark (just kidding; St. Mark’s Bookshop still needs your help).
Moschovakis was a professor of mine in college— she taught a class that sought to help writers reconcile their “sensitive craft” with the horrible, boring world-at-large by way of putting together resumes and cover letters and taking internships and stuff. Her poetry is exceptional, and this book landed her good press and a confounding modeling gig on Oprah.com.
You and Three Others… is a smattering of Moschovakis’s recent works, but it reads like a single, coherent poem. The tone hops from the chaotic history-lesson-mish-mash of R. Buckminster Fuller’s Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization to the strained, perfect tones of George Oppen. What they have in common—and what drives Moschovakis’ language— is their didacticism. In “Five Poems About Poetry,” Oppen posits, “The question is: how does one hold an apple” and Moschovakis crafts her own version: “What, precisely is your procedure?”
She lays hers down plainly. “We start not with theory but with tangible performance.” It functions as a proclamation, as well as a framework for the text that follows. The book is organized like a lecture; her first few pages are a practical table of contents for the text that follows. As a former student of hers, her rhetoric was bizarrely familiar. It’s astounding how she reconciles the tight economy of her language with pitch-perfect syntax. While the poet’s language hardly ventures into lyricism, it could be lauded for its replacement of blustery language and construction with common sense, of which this book is brimming. More miraculous is the convergence of the rhetorical with the personal; You and Three Others… unpacks a cultural system as precisely as the scientific method and transforms into a moving account of the poet’s life—where she’s worked, what money she’s made (she lists her income from every job she’s had, including my alma mater. Hey Pratt, I’m disappointed, but not surprised), what books she’s read, what websites she’s visited. The tangible performance of her experiences inform her theory, which is lain out with textbook clarity— it’s a theory of revolutionary openness.