Sand Opera (Metres)

I was going to say that this is less a book of poetry than a work of art, but a book of poetry is a work of art and especially these days, a work of hope. There are those about who are experimenting with the question of what it is that makes a book, and I would say that Metres belongs in what I take to be a small, thoughtful and provocative crowd. Not only has he drawn his inspiration from a wide variety of sources, he has included diagrams that overlay some poems, fingerprints and calligraphy.

Most visible – after the stunning cover art (http://aalkadhi.com/content/I_am_baghdad/) – are the redactions. In Guantanamo Diary, an excellent companion piece, they are political. Here too, they are poltical, but they are also art, negative space reclaimed, much in the spirit of a British artist I’ve always admired, Rachel Whiteread (https://www.gagosian.com/artists/rachel-whiteread/selected-works).

But Metres’ use of the redaction is not a gimmick. From the title of the collection, StANDard OPERAting procedure, to the opening invocation in ‘Illumination of the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew’ (if the flesh is the text of God / bid a voice to rise / / & rise again) to the closing prayer, ‘Compline’ (We lift the blinds, look out into ink / For light. My God, my God, open the spine binding our sight), Metres is a master of juxtaposition, placing words, images, even punctuation next to (and on top) of each other as he explores power, particularly the power of language, in the Iraqi conflict, in the cells of Guantanamo.

Consider the line quoted above from ‘Compline.’ It’s the last poem of the collection, and by then almost every word of those lines carries tremendous weight. Who does Metres mean by ‘we’? Does ‘lift’ have a positive connotation? Does it suggest physical force? What and who is blind? Blindfolded? And we see ink? Words? There’s freedom there? Power? A reclaiming? And the first ‘My God,’ how should we say it? And what of the possessive? Whose God is it? The ‘spine’ of a book (as we get set to close Metres’?) “Binding’ – Again, who is bound? Who’s doing the binding? ‘Our’ – Again, first person plural. Who does it include? What does Metres want to see? Want us to see?

I could go on. But you should read it first.

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