By Katie Stobbart (The Cascade)
Grief can neither be contained nor measured. Similarly, the poems in Sina Queyras’ M x T bleed together, with lines and ideas recurring throughout the book. At first, containment seems to be Queyras’ aims, as she invokes formulae and circuit breaker diagrams to mark the passage of pages, grafting grief, loss, memory, and time onto charts one might expect to find in a physics textbook.
But in “Water, Water Everywhere,” the first poem in the collection, she writes, “I don’t want a grid, I want arms. I don’t want a theory, I want the poem inside me … I want to sink into the rhythm of your weeping, I want to say, My grief is turning and I have no way to remain still.”
The diagrams and charts, then, juxtapose the immeasurability of grief; as much as the poet attempts to corral it into words, into a work, it defies rigid forms and structures and refuses to be contained.
Even poetic forms are too constricting: “You won’t find a couplet in the wild, my love; a sestina is a formal garden, a villanelle is the court, a sonnet is an urban love story, an epic is the senate, a prose poem is the city.” Yet grief resists all these.
The blend of free verse and prose poetry; the abrupt, somewhat jarring intrusions of graphs and tables; and the sheer force of Queyras’ imagery and language work well to lead the reader fluidly through complex thoughts and emotions.
However, the more clearly separate poems toward the end of the collection aren’t as effective. Especially disappointing was “Elegy Written in a City Cemetery.” Its premise was intriguing: the poet pieces the poem together from other poets’ elegies, attempting to form a single narrative. Unfortunately, the result feels disjointed and overwhelms Queyras’ voice. The use of footnotes throughout the poem is also distracting.
Grief, as the title suggests, is expressed as Memory times Time. But the irony of the title is in the idea that an emotion so multi-layered and overwhelming could be governed by a formula, by a science. Queyras’ poetry is as beautiful and poignant as it is challenging.