Brian Teare’s poetry collection Companion Grasses is a beautiful book full of sounds, gorgeous images, and thought-provoking ideas. It was not a book that I started reading and immediately fell into, Teare’s poems take some work. I read the first few and felt like I was outside looking at them through a window, or since much of the book centers around nature, I was inside looking out and couldn’t turn the door knob. I set the book aside for a week or so and tried again.
There is something to be said for doing this because the poems were doing work I wasn’t even aware of. When I began again from the beginning, they rushed right up to meet me. This is not to say it was smooth and easy sailing the rest of the way, only that I found a way to read the poems.
The book is broken up into three sections with the largest one belonging to section two and containing a long series of poems, separate but related, under the broad heading of “Transcendental Grammar Crown.” It is a wonderful series in which a phrase or idea from one poem is taken up in the next and so on and so on.
It goes like this. The first poem in the series is called “The Leap From Matter (Idealism)” and the last stanza (I am not going to be able to reproduce the spacing properly) is this:
to say to be our body is sticky hurt fir white-green lichen the fawn’s
brown sides shot through with spots like pastured asters we walk in
skin & salamanders exactly the orange of old pine &still we love
our minds do seem clearer the way quartz tricks a window into earth
The next poem is called “Our Minds Do Seem (Rain Guide)” and here is part of it:
— wanting nothing for a sentence to make
noise sense we went earward to wear
appearance a noun a page a field
guided to wildflowers —is lips is hooded
is ends in spikes purple
paired leaves a square
stem : hello hairy skullcap
“We went earward,” I love that! And I like how “to wear appearance” is not what I would expect; it makes a delightful surprise and catches up my brain and thoughts and turns them just a little to see things differently.
The next poem is called “Hello (Ives).” See how he works it? Throughout this series are beautiful phrases like “the smell/of hay sweeter than seeing” and “afternoon encumbered by thunder” and “solstice brings the field/ to its knees.”
A good many of the poems take place during a walk or are initiated by a walk and full of the sound of wind in the trees, the rustling of grasses, and the waves of the ocean. What Teare seems to be searching for is a language, a grammar, that transcends the facts of things, that transcends our humanness, that allows us to open outwards and step across the boundary we created to separate ourselves from the rest of the natural world.
I was making language
a stem to aspire to :
He is well aware “the poem can’t hold the real/ fields, of course,” but he also insists
matter a mere shift
in limits, even skin’s
a trick of the liminal :
touch here & I give
way to elsewhere :
Teare is currently an assistant professor of English at Temple University. He has won several fellowships and awards including the Lambda Award for his collection Pleasure. I don’t know what his other collections are like, but Companion Grasses is rich and heady, full of sound and the scent of earth and moments that make me stop and think. They are not easy poems and I by no means figured them all out. I can say though that I found them worth the effort and I hope to read some of Teare’s other collections sometime.