Fjords Reviews

HOME | BOOK REVIEWS | Review of The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish by Joshua Weiner
The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish by Joshua Weiner



Fjords Review, The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish

Review of The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish by Joshua Weiner

Chicago University Press
80 pages
ISBN 978-0226017013

Charting the River
by LynleyShimat Lys


About LynleyShimat Lys

LynleyShimat Lys is a poet, playwright, and essayist living in Jerusalem. Lynley also does social media work for H_NGM_N and tries to stay connected to the literary world online. Recent work appears in the chapbook "Turn up the Volume: Poems about the State of Wisconsin," a project of Poets for First Amendment Protection, and in the journals Verse Wisconsin, Deep Water Literary Journal, Leaves of Ink, and Flashquake.

“Paris is between two layers, a layer of water and a layer of air… The layer of water is salubrious; it comes first from heaven, then from the earth. The layer of air is unwholesome, it comes from the sewers.”
- Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“There is no thing here that does not, where one least expects it, open a fugitive eye, blinking it shut again; but if you look more closely, it is gone. To the whispering of these gazes, the space lends its echo.”
- Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Where is the edge between poetry and history, between history and memory? Joshua Weiner's collection The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish, envisions poetry on a grand scale, a triptych of the title poem enveloped by the landscape panorama of “Rock Creek Park (II)” and the eye of “Cyclops.” If Walter Benjamin had written the expansive Arcades Project as a poem sequence, it might read like “Rock Creek (II).” The eponymous waterway of Washington D.C. rushes through the center of the poem, “like Coltrane stretching / tight vibrato / phrases ... undirected/ as prisoners of / Guantá namo / flooding cells in protest.” Along with allusions to Whitman's Specimen Days, jazz, and politics, the poem traces the history of the United States through personal histories, street names, and “fragmented stone tools of the Algonquin,” asking, “If Rock Creek is a passage / what will I find there / in its leaves & pages, legible / by moonlight.” Rock Creek serves as a way to read America, the branches of culture, memory, and landscape.

The eye of “Cyclops” opens from the eye itself, the eye as camera apparatus, “Staring from the bathroom mirror / reflection of an eye / the hole that released me.” The eye and the camera implicate the speaker and the reader in the personal and the political, Guantánamo detainees and broken relationships. The eye shifts from “the day's bright eye / the bright eye of night,” to “an open eye / of water like a lake,” becoming “two eyes / converging without rivalry,” and “One self / only / I stare / at where she was / and see her / disappear / into the blind spot.” The eye serves as synecdoche for the I; alone it becomes a cyclops; it loses both depth perception and political accountability.

The sequence of poems bounded by “Rock Creek (II)” and “Cyclops” weaves between dreamscape, landscape, ephemeral and liminal spaces, and the prison poems of Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet. The title poem “The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish,” evokes folk art and the plight of the Biblical Jonah fleeing his destiny of Nineveh and hiding in dreams. It references the politics of Jewish statehood, “a man being swallowed by his kin, his skin / a man being swallowed by the State / (Leviathan in 1948),” envisioning the State as a giant sea creature. It offers the philosophical reading “a man being swallowed by a room / in which he finds a man being swallowed by a fish.” The poems in this section enact variations between movement, the flow of thought, and stillness.

“Things To Do While You're Here” paints a dream sequence, with the knowledge that “This is your nightmare, but you can do something with it,” to which the speaker responds, “And for what seemed a long time I chose not to wake up.” The poem “The Winter's Tale” depicts the audience and actors of a performance of Shakespeare, “with the Besian school massacre / (344 dead in Chechnya, teachers and children) / transparent backdrop to this university production,” filling the liminal audience space with salient news of other exits from the world stage.

“Rock Creek” considers partnership and parenthood, as well as the speaker's own eventual exit, “under a beech / whose leaves are lit to a hundred hues – / green dazzling network shifting tones, / intensities, and casting on / my eye a duplicating view: / Two boys; us two. And seeing them / without us—one of those moments when / the weave in time breaks open.” The theme of the eye echoes in these verses. The sense of flow and motion carries through the theater audience and the meditation on passing on.

The counterpoint to this flow appears in the deep centering of the poems “First Walk After Cancer” and “Hikmet: Çankiri Prison, 1938,” where a sense of calm emerges, “In this moment, there were no waves to fall into; … There was only the earth beneath me, the sun above me, and me.” And in “First Walk After Cancer,” the speaker sees “lost glove in bare tree; blue jay; my favorite shoes; / green lights everywhere, seen, if not understood.” The objects form a string of green lights, signs to come back to life, a place of stillness and rebirth.

“The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish” offers a panorama of American life and world events seen through the prism of Rock Creek and the relationship between the I and the eye. The ambitious scale of the project finds support in the careful measure of the individual lines. Like the course of Rock Creek and the man being swallowed by a fish, these poems reveal new facets with every reading.


And Then by Donald Breckenridge

Dear Everyone by Matt Shears

Magic City Gospel by Ashley M. Jones

Intimacy by Stanley Crawford

Lunch Poems by Deborah Kuan

The Best American Poetry 2016

One with the Tiger by Steven Church

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

The King of White Collar Boxing by David Lawrence

They Were Coming for Him by Berta Vias-Mahou

Verse for the Averse: a Review of Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry

That Other Me by Maha Gargash

Simone by Eduardo Lalo

Swimming by Karl Luntt

Ghost/ Landscape by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher

Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus

Bad Light by Carlos Castán

Diaboliques by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly

Staying Alive by Laura Sims

Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Fireflies by John Leland

Maze of Blood by Marly Youmans

Tender the Maker by Christina Hutchkins

Little Anodynes by Jon Pineda

Conjuror by Holly Sullivan McClure

Someone's Trying To Find You by Marc Augé

The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza

Now You Have Many Legs to Stand On by Ashley-Elizabeth Best

The Knowledge by Robert Peake

The Darling by Lorraine M. López

How To Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes

Watershed Days: Adventures (A Little Thorny and Familiar) in the Home Range by Thorpe Moeckel

[INSERT] BOY by Danez Smith

Demigods on Speedway by Aurelie Sheehan

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

Singing Bones by Kate Schmitt

Wandering Time by Luis Alberto Urrea

Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail by Ralph Hamilton

Domenica Martinello: The Abject in the Interzones

Control Bird Alt Delete by Alexandria Peary

Twelve Clocks by Julie Sophia Paegle

Love You To a Pulp by C.S. DeWildt

Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin

Women by Chloe Caldwell

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

ESSAY 2:12 A.M. by Kat Meads

Revising The Storm by Geffrey Davis

Quality Snacks by Andy Mozina

Nature's Confession by J.L. Morin

Midnight in Siberia by David Greene

Strings Attached by Diane Decillis

Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging by Joshua Dolezal

The New Testament by Jericho Brown

You Don't Know Me by James Nolan

Phoning Home: Essays by Jacob M. Appel

Words We Might One Day Say by Holly Karapetkova

Murder by Danielle Collobert

Sorrow by Catherine Gammon

The Americans by David Roderick

Put Your Hands In by Chris Hosea

I Think I Am in Friends-Love With You by Yumi Sakugawa

Third Wife by Jiri Klobouk

Box of Blue Horses by Lisa Graley

Review of Hilary Plum’s They Dragged Them Through the Streets

The Sleep of Reason by Morri Creech

American Neolithic by Terence Hawkins

The Hush before the Animals Attack by Carol Matos

Regina Derieva, In Memoriam by Frederick Smock

Review of The House Began to Pitch by Kelly Whiddon

Hill William by Scott McClanahan

Seamus Heaney Aloft

The Bounteous World by Frederick Smock

Going Down by Chris Campanioni

Review of Empire in the Shade of a Grass Blade by Rob Cook

Review of The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor

Review of Life Cycle Poems by Dena Rash Guzman

Review of Saint X by Kirk Nesset

Review of The Tide King by Jen Michalski

Review of Jessica Treadway's Please Come Back to Me

Eve Asks by Christine Redman-Waldeyer