The Branches, the Axe, the Missing by Charlotte Pence
by Weston Cutter
I’ll admit that this book took me quite a bit of time and/or energy to get into, and in restrospect I’m not entirely sure why. Pence’s poetry is pretty dazzling stuff—this book is, after all, the Black River Chapbook winner from Black Lawrence Press—but for whatever reason, I couldn’t really hang in there. What ended up happening, ultimately, was that I found myself bouncing like some echoing sound between two poems in this book—poems I’d here offer the titles of except Pence’s poetry, at least in this book, all goes title-less, each preceded by a little hollow box at page’s top. Maybe this is why I had such a hard time find my way into this system. What system? The book’s a narrative, ultimately, and it’s (as I read it) the narrative of a female, and it’s about love and commitment, and it’s about fathers and lovers, and it’s about the ways in which a treebranch can be either a dead thing blocking a drive or something chopped into pieces and fed into a fire by which we see a bit more into dark. These two poems I’m thinking of: both are blocks-o-poetry with aspiration, each are given tabs and unique spacing, and the first, which is the book’s fourth poem, ends with “But w/ everything gained, there is loss. What / is the equation for this? Simply: 1+1 is no longer one? / With taming fire / what was lost?” (please know: you need to see the thing on the page: she’s got a very specific lineation going on, and I’m dishonoring it here), and the second of which begins with “We, and no other animal, understand how to / start fire” and ends with “the dog who / sniffs / the same candle flame and whines. Circles / three times, then lies back down.” What I’d like to here submit is that Ms Pence’s weirdly intruiging, come-backly-tugging book is fixated on is this light/heat source we’re drawn toward and, simultaneously, whatever we traded for the clarity or shine of fire-light. Period. It’s ultimately a book of rigorous measurement, a thin chapbook attempting in its way to consider something like transaction—wildness or elemental aspects for the ordered clarity that comes with taming chaos, the ambiguous could-be of the unknown for the fenced-in boundariness of definition. It’s a weirdly masterful little book, well worth your time and energy even if you have to read it once, ditch the thing, and come crawling back like a confused animal drawn for reasons passing comprehension to the site of a fire you can’t shake.