Brian Teare’s Pleasure begins with an odd fourteen-line prose poem, “Dead House Sonnet,” in which a house has been stripped, burnt, gouged, and taken over by the outside world. The house is a metaphor for language, and especially the act of writing, which continually fails to bear up under the weight of the actual world: “house of each phrase . . . undone verbs . . . burnt tense . . . gouge of form, form of the firmament fallen."
by Brian Teare
However, the poem’s final two words introduce another, more original idea: after so much description of the house’s deterioration, the poem suddenly shifts focus and ends with “then sirens.” The poem doesn’t just bemoan the futility of language; it declares that something else, perhaps some other form of expression, can rise beyond language’s shortcomings. Locating that new expression is the ambition of this exciting new book.
And this is not an academic exercise. Teare’s search for original expression is fueled by mourning. The loss of his lover, who died of AIDS some two years ago, is woven throughout the book. He expresses grief and assaults the inadequacy of language to hold and express that grief. Teare wants a more authentic expression of his loss; his goal is “not to suffer / more, but finally to suffer a clarity in language sufficient // to pain.”
To do this, Teare doesn’t reject language altogether. There are vivid descriptions of tenderness and intimacy with his lover. The book’s central poem, “In Other Light,” brings his lover into the present: “Yes, the world / there: mattress / on the floor, / candle in a dish, / his thighs whiter / for their dark hair: / a surfeit, that surface; / his glass, // shoes ordered / by the door . . .”
But these descriptions are not sufficient. Teare knows how words can manipulate memory, how they can objectify and close off feeling. In “Dreamt Dead Eden” he talks of his lover’s tracheotomy: “Yes / they had to cut your throat, but don’t worry I am / making it beautiful.” This is a harsh statement but not entirely sarcastic. Here he doesn’t treat words as useless and false; he is aiming for expression that engages without distance and objectification. Later in the poem he declares, “When I write // butterfly, it’s not ironic. It’s a sweet name for a needle.”
What stands out in Teare’s work is the ferocity he brings to the endeavor. He is relentless in questioning the line between life and death, between language and reality. And he is determined to pursue this without preconceived notions of where it will lead: “To follow in thought / the beloved into death? // To stop at panic? / At limit? . . . How strange / to proceed without vision” (“To Other Light”).
Of course there is no definitive point of arrival. Language can only hint at what it can’t contain. The last poems in the book suggest possible manifestations of his lover’s presence: a face in a darkening window, a voice rising above waves breaking on a beach. Ultimately he can get no closer than that. Despite the lack of resolution, Teare’s steely-eyed examination of language’s shortcomings and his determination to find an authentic expression of loss and grief beyond these limits make Pleasure a fresh and exciting new work.