Review of The Last 4 Things
By Kate Greenstreet
Ashanta Press, 2009
Review by Matthew Falk
"Something is wrong with the women and the men. / Stone is stronger."
One thing (there are many) Kate Greenstreet is good at is timing. Her phrases dart and meander in bursts of verbiage, intermittently interrupted by blank pages. The white space around the words is analogous to the silence that surrounds and supports a riff by Miles Davis or the cave that allows Echo's sighs to freely ring. It's like the negative space around an image, perhaps literally like the photographic negatives produced by the protagonist of The Last 4 Things, Greenstreet's new book from Ahsahta Press.
The follow-up to the New Jersey-based poet's acclaimed case sensitive, The Last 4 Things is a fascinating and formally quirky work. Its preoccupation with sensory, particularly ocular, input extends as far as the DVD (not viewed by this reviewer) that accompanies the book. References to sight and things seen proliferate on almost every page: "One begins with so little—collecting, sweeping. / Or seeing it, just seeing." Greenstreet's project is to negotiate the gap between appearance and essence. "That's the sound: click. That's the sound we call 'click.' A girl who is nine plays a nine-year-old girl. A woman who is plays a woman. With the skeleton inside. Gradually we realized."
"Photography," according to Greenstreet, "can be … a way to see and a way to relate to other people (while standing apart)." The narrator of The Last 4 Things is an artist and a voyeur, a woman neither young nor old "who's been traveling for a long time and who … stays in one place." She looks out her window, takes pictures and takes notes, and waits. She is waiting for something to happen, and she is haunted by the fear that when it happens she won't be able to capture it accurately, won't be able to fix it in the frozen medium of her art, because the distance between the image and the thing imagined, between the named and the real, may be unbridgeable.
Greenstreet builds an atmosphere of anxiety, both aesthetic and existential, always tempered by irony: "Someone asked, what is dying? And someone at my side said: 'He's gone.' / Almost at once, it's a story." Well aware of the lateness of the literary hour, she's the sort of writer who can make you laugh while still letting you know that she's not playing games. She is serious about poetry, about art and exploration and honesty. Compassion informs her work, along with a feminist point of view.
Structurally speaking, The Last 4 Things consists of two long poems, of which the title piece comes first, followed by the somewhat shorter "56 Days." The latter is more conventional in its presentation upon the page, taking the form of a series of consecutively dated journal entries, and it tends to be prosy and discursive, whereas section one is gnomic and terse. But thematically the whole achieves a unity rare in contemporary poetry, being almost a kind of fragmented novella. This is in keeping with the sense of form the poet previously displayed in case sensitive. Fresh, warm, and inquisitive, Greenstreet's latest delivers on the promise of her earlier work.
© Matthew Falk, 2009