Thursday, November 18, 2021

Zoe Tuck reviews Monica Mody's Ordinary Annals (2021)

Zoe Tuck was good enough to review Monica Mody's Ordinary Annals (2021) over at their blog. Thanks so much! This follows the lovely paragraph Lantern Review offered, as well, earlier this year. See Tuck's original post here. As they write:
It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in extraordinary times, although as Monica Mody writes in her new chapbook Ordinary Annals, “Everything was being shredded long before we noticed.” And yet, Mody’s title is unassuming. Ordinary: run-of-the-mill, quotidian—right? Still, the ordinary world, and her revolutions, are a marvel: “Every season that turns brings us back / to pitted dark, moon folding into sun.” Poets have a responsibility to record the revolutions of the world, hence annals.

The extra/ordinariness of our times—that is to say, the admixture of the unprecedented and the cyclical—gives a spiral shape to Ordinary Annals. Mody reaches for the extraordinary but is still “entangled with the world, that place / I become / me, ordinary / shattering into we.” Grief and weariness lead her to lay her body down (I think here of the Nap Ministry), enabling her to “connect with tendril, still—,” drawing energy from the hurt and beautiful earth to be reborn.

Mody lovingly but firmly critiques the desire to erase the specificity of our griefs:

Now don’t say,

We’re all the same
& love is the answer.

What does it take to attend—
not flinch—at different

trajectories of suffering?
Can we honor healing

their immense particularity

and is that love

and elsewhere:

If through our gestures
we take away

another’s power
—enable colonization—

we fail
Earth & Waters.

She also critiques the impulse (imperative?) to ‘return to normal’ and repress our grief (since we can’t simply erase it) at the interlocking crises of our time.

Mody begins Ordinary Annals knocking into the glass walls of language: “I want to rise above my limitations.” What limitations? “I want to let bird shapes of words flock together into language that will / change skies.” Can language change skies? Mody writes elsewhere, “I’m just so sick & tired of being Poet” and in that moment it is because “losses stitch [her] tongue into clawed mouth” and another of the responsibilities of the poet is to sing the losses. I read into this not just despair for the losses themselves, but despair at not having been able to forestall them with the poet’s tool, language.

This desire to solve or resolve or memorialize in tension with another mode, that of, “rocking in this moment of undecidability, not becoming anything at all,” a formlessness that presents itself as a space of repose in between breaths or throbs.

Ordinary Annals is the work of a poet attuned to the entanglement of word and world, memory and moment, love and suffering. With her willingness to share her progress in language through “this time of grave despair,” Mody joins her elders in:

tell[ing] us of the many gates around the world that are opening
Gates opened by great white wings of love—of sorrow

Each gate points straight to our hearts
That place where broken

            realities are woven

She models her movement toward these gates for all of us ordinary would-be weavers “shattering into a we” and I’m grateful for it.

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