88 MAPS is about the places, times, and wildness we should say yes to, and it’s about looking at all our real and figurative culs-de-sac and saying no. It’s a collection of praise songs, sonnets, prose poems, challenges to rampant development, narratives commemorating the last best places, and 21st century fables. That formal variety is combined with a singular vision and voice. The poems here can’t be mistaken for anyone else’s, the same way Tom Waits can’t be confused with some other singer, and gumbo—at least done right like it is in South Louisiana—doesn’t taste like just another soup.
Rob Carney’s 88 Maps lays a blueprint for navigating an American West replete with “invisible Stetsons” and immigration round-ups, Mountain Dew ad men and wolf hunts. In an age that would have us plug our inner worlds with power cords and impulse-buys, 88 Maps opens startling and bighearted pathways. Carney alerts us to languid truths, which angle against a national frame demanding that we live—or perhaps more accurately, livestream—in the extreme now. In a spirit of resistant joy, Rob Carney points us toward the riches of the internal landscape as well as the slow moving glories of day-to-day life. For this, we are deepened beyond measure.
—Diane Raptosh, author of American Amnesiac
Rob Carney’s poems are strange machines, well-engineered but unfamiliar devices that bear both the inventor’s marks and the scars of use and misuse. They are suitable for combat and pillow. I admire the ways his poems are both tightly wound and unhinged, like toys that can’t be put back into the box and have evolved into companionable friends. The critical intelligence is keen in these poems, and so is the vaudevillian ear.
—Ed Skoog, author of Mister Skylight and Rough Day
About the Author
Rob Carney earned a BA in English from Pacific Lutheran University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University, completing his PhD at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He is a two-time winner of the Utah Book Award for Poetry and the author of three previous books and three chapbooks of poems, including Story Problems and Weather Report from Somondoco Press. His work has appeared in Cave Wall, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Quarterly West, Redactions, River Styx, Sugar House Review, other journals, as well as Flash Fiction Forward (Norton 2006). In 2014 he received the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry. He is a Professor of English at Utah Valley University.
88 MAPS by ROB CARNEY
Reviewed by JULIE MARIE WADE
January 15th, 2016
Rob Carney’s 88 Maps is a raucous and ruminative, plangent and piquant collection of 32 poems arranged into five sections where the first and last sections are each comprised of a single long poem and where numbers carry persistent real and symbolic weight. There is something Whitmanian about the impulse here—the capaciousness of a project that does indeed “contain multitudes”—but Carney modulates his forays into confession and cultural commentary, epistle and ekphrasis, the satirical and the spiritual, with that most essential tool: structure. The book is skillfully assembled (imbricated might be a better word, evoking shingles on a roof…) into multiple, overlapping topographies. Each section adds another layer to the complex textual edifice Carney has built and is building—surely there are more poems to come!—which hinges on notions of place, progress, and belonging. And the threshold, the doorjamb, the keystone, is value.
The first poem in this collection is about maps, at least initially—“I found them rolled up, dusty, in an old armoire/ too big to get out of the cellar.” The premise is a scavenger hunt in which our speaker was not seeking but found, and as a result, was called to respond. This may be the reader’s experience of Carney’s book, come to think of it, finding herself suddenly caught up in “a set of illustrations and arrows with instructions on how to unfold.” She wants to see the collection through to the end, yet she knows it can’t really end. Everything is too nuanced and recursive for that, which is where Eliot comes in: “the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time.”
Suppose we presume these poems are treasures. Suppose we presume these poems are maps to their own unfolding. Golden-poems. Meta-poems. Then here, at the end of the first one, the prologue-poem, is Carney’s ars poetic. In a project this many-branched and multi-brambled, there had to be one, didn’t there?
I know about maps, though:
the way they all start somewhere,
how they picture the in-between rises
the roof lines and kindling
and armoires and cats’ bones—
but always arrive at the ocean, stars, or underground
whichever way we go.
Ready for the rises and valleys? They’re next, fleshing out the body of the book. The first section was DEPARTURES. Next comes DIRECTIONS, where we rise, swell, are carried further away.
For instance, think about eagles, how they soar, what it means to be lifted up on eagles’ wings. Then, enter a poem like “Eagle Ridge, Eagle Crest, Eagle View” and look down on the world from such a wide and luminous vantage. Carney’s capaciousness turns aerial, panoramic:
Meanwhile, the wind is busy with its own work,
bending the trees back like dancers,
and nine crows ride on the updraft in a line.
I’m not a pioneer either, but I can read this weather
Perhaps my favorite poem in this section is the one that makes my own heart rise up in my throat and lodge there. It’s a poem, it’s a prompt, it’s a litany: “Every Place I’ve Ever Lived is Gone:” The colon in the title holds the words in place like buttons on a collar. Maybe the reader will fill those bright white margins with her own missing places. She feels the tightening after all, the longing for what is lost gleaming back at her even in Carney’s choice of punctuation. And though I’ve never been to Lafayette, Louisiana, or Spokane, Washington, I’ve been there now. “I can stop on the shoulder and sit there still/ while stars fill every inch of night.”
The valleys come next, as promised.
In the third section, the fulcrum-section titled NO RETURN ADDRESS, we pass through the via negative of poetry. It’s almost a riddle. What is the poem with no return address? It must be a poem not recognizable as itself, not locatable on a traditional map of poems. A poem in disguise perhaps? Eliot can help us again: “To arrive where you are [. . .]You must go through the way in which you are not.” I had a teacher once who told me I could only understand why I didn’t write fiction by writing fiction. I wonder if Carney had a teacher who told him he could only understand why he wrote poetry by writing prose. If so, he was wise to comply.
The reader comes upon these passages as upon a valley, sprawling before her, full to their margins: four poems without line breaks: prose-poems if we’re so inclined to call them. Carney’s journey to the heart of poetry, its bull’s-eye center, is via the valley of prose.
Juxtapose the breathless humor of “Dinner Date”—an outrageous soliloquy in the voice of a new romantic interest—with the poem that follows, “No Return Address”—an elegy of extraordinary depth to a former spouse, first divorced, then departed. This poem is breathtaking in an entirely different way, yet the impact of both prose-poems is equally visceral. There’s that raucous and ruminative energy I was taking about, that leaping between extremes so that we see, and finally believe, the way each emotion emits, each circumstance contains, its opposite.
Now how do we get home from here? The ars poetica promised “roof lines and kindling/ and armoires and cats’ bones,” which sure sounds like the suburbs to me. And so it is: HOME APPRAISALS.
The natural world and the suburban (qua artificial) world are placed paratactic for inspection: “If there’s added value in a ceiling fan,/ then there must be value in a hawk.” Carney later concedes, “There isn’t any math that factors this,” and yet “there must be value every time they miss/ so plunge becomes pursuit, becomes a game/ played out in fan-tailed figure-eights.” There are those eights again, reminding us of the 88 Maps, the number eight and its shadow, one the real, natural eight, the other its impersonator. Reminding us of the world we lived in: Originals and copies. Reminding us of the world we live in now: Originals and clones. And the eternal opposites: One eight the qualitative (poetry, et al.), the other quantitative (mathematics, et al.). As such, “Not every decimal point is accurate.” As such, “Best one-point-something hours that whole July.” And is it incumbent upon the poet to call attention to such incongruities? “The curtains would never be seagulls./ Her closet would never be the woods.” Not to rank them, to be clear, but a far more delicate and diligent project: to name them—to recognize what each thing is, and what it is not, and how we cannot make anything otherwise, even with our wishing? If we try, we “twist sense like a corkscrew/ and the only wine [we] ever open is the bottle of [our] own desire.”
Sometimes, out of nowhere, and seemingly of their own accord, the cosmic geometries align to form a cogent proof. These are moments I treasure most in Carney’s poems—when the natural world and its shadow converge, even superimpose:
Upstairs follows the roof line—trapezoids,
odd polygons. Three windows look out
at the mountains—more angles balancing the sky . . .
Once when I was seventeen, the moon
looked close enough to walk to. Right there. Huge . . .
The archway makes me think of that sometimes.
The fifth section is called ARRIVALS, but we already know how that story goes. The ars poetica foreshadowed as much: but always arrive at the ocean, stars, or underground/whichever way we go. Now Carney’s speaker tells us: “Take your pick.” Now Carney’s speaker warns us: “Hold on to your catharsis, people,/ the zombies are coming to eat you where it hurts.” The command is quickly tempered: “though of course this is metaphor./ It says so on every syllabus.”
Zombies still represent consumerism, don’t they? They consume humans the way humans consume the world. It’s a transitive property, and Carney’s doing poetry math. He wants to know: does our cultural currency actually add up to something? anything? (Bueller? Bueller?) Is YouTube really “our new tribal fire”?
Maps are not doors, and poems are not maps, but these poems come with a skeleton key. It’s called unless. It’s a conjunction, which is another way of saying a hinge or a bridge—a tool of language to bring this and that together. Carney’s speaker contemplates unless, remarks “I’ve always liked that word —like a lighthouse keeping an eye on possibility.”
The book isn’t over unless you want it to be. You can always go back for some “pear amandines in spun/honey, sorbet with a cherry reduction.” You can always remember “Our language is a language not a lug nut,” and thus it’s malleable. It bends with its remover to remove. Surely Shakespeare would agree. You can always contest, “A new Target’s not where people fall in love,” unless it is. Maybe you fell in love there, and you find the red bull’s eye the sexiest sign on the strip-malled horizon. You can always insist, “they’re just maps. They’re not magic,” unless maybe there’s something special about finding 88 of them—“the exact same number as keys on a piano,/and maybe if you laid them out side by side// they’d play a song.”
Susan Sontag wrote, “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” Fifty years later, Rob Carney wrote, “Imagine books/with missing pages . . . you know it’s more than words// that disappear.” These two statements have nothing to do with each other, unless they do.
Born in Seattle in 1979, Julie Marie Wade completed a Master of Arts in English at Western Washington University in 2003, a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry at the University of Pittsburgh in 2006, and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Humanities at the University of Louisville in 2012. She is the author of four collections of poetry—Without (Finishing Line Press, 2010), Postage Due (White Pine Press, 2013), When I Was Straight (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2014), and SIX (Red Hen Press, 2016)—and four collections of lyric nonfiction—Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colgate University Press, 2010; Bywater Books, 2014), Small Fires (Sarabande Books, 2011), Tremolo: An Essay (Bloom Books, 2013), and Catechism: A Love Story (Noctuary Press, 2016). A recipient of an Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir, Wade teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University in Miami.
Wolves That Lope Into Your Dreams: Rob Carney’s 88 Maps
by Amy Brunvand
Jan 31, 2016
Every now and then I run across a poem so tasty I’m greedy for more by the same poet, which is how I felt after finding Rob Carney’s prize winning “Seven Pages from The Book of Sharks” on terrain.org. The poem tells a wholly invented myth of sharks in plainspoken and often lighthearted language. I could imagine Carney’s sharks swimming through a children’s book illustrated with circling fins and toothy jaws. In one stanza the poet becomes a child talking to another boy who tells him, “Sharks are the ocean’s way of talking./Like talking with your hands.”
Storytelling is characteristic of Carney’s poetry. One of his previous collections even bears the title Story Problems (2011), and it includes a particularly lovely set of poems featuring apocryphal “Old Songs about Washington,” telling tales of bears, salmon, whales and other denizens of the wet, green Pacific Northwest where Carney grew up. Nowadays Carney is a professor of English and Literature at Utah Valley University and his latest book, 88 Maps finds the poet striving to become native to this place despite surges of homesickness. The mysterious maps of the title poem are discovered in a carefully constructed cabinet left in the basement of the poet’s new house by some unknown previous inhabitant. These maps chart a baffling new landscape showing, the small concavity above his "cat’s bones/ where loosened dirt/ sunk slowly in the rain, and strangely detailed, tidal charts of his room-to-room movements,/ the constellations of upstairs furniture." The mapmaker is no malevolent spirit, however. He has thoughtfully provided, "a map of the Salt Lake metro area/ in case I’d moved from out of state," which the poet uses to swat a wasp. At least it wasn’t a honeybee. The metaphorical stage is set for the poet to find his way, though he is exiled in the dry Utah desert.
Seems like every weekend in the summer here, "someone wants to take you down to Moab. You go there and hang out, and marvel at nature and beauty. Like it’s your job." writes Carney in the prose poem “Undercurrents,” and then segues into a story about growing up in Washington State. He ponders the question of how to find a new home by shopping and under the section heading “Home Appraisals,” the poems are based on real estate ads—“Two Story, Stone and Brick, Single-Family Dwelling:” "If there’s added value in a ceiling fan,/ then there must be value in a hawk." Or “2,140 Square Feet:” says nothing at all about the unsquare angles.
Carney’s poetic impulse is to turn everything into a myth, and he makes an admirable effort to find poetry in the antics of the Utah Legislature and their Republican cronies (Carney makes no secret of his politically liberal views; in response to a particularly flattering comment addressed to him at a writing conference he wishes he had said, "thanks for calling my poems open-minded./ That seems a good measure to go by. I won’t forget)."
My favorite title in this entire collection belongs to a poem called, “To the Representative on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Who in 2012 Said, ‘Evolution, Big Bang Theory, all That Is Lies Straight from the Pit of Hell, ‘ I Offer This Quick Study on Natural Selection, in Which the Eagle is Thought; the River is Reason; the Salmon Is Insight; Tomorrow Is a Salmon; and the Crows, of Course, Are You.”
With a title that splendid you hardly even need a poem. A few of these political poems have footnotes to prove that regardless of whimsy and poetic license, Carney is absolutely not making some things up. Despite this sense of ambivalence, and a poem that laments, “Every Place I’ve Ever Lived is Gone,” Carney comes down on the side of trying to form real connections to people and place. He rails against the dead-alive virus of consumerism, and the eagle-free landscapes of developments with names like “Eagle Ridge, Eagle Crest, Eagle View.” The final poem, “In the Only Zombie Flick I’ll Watch,” says, it isn’t brains they’re after./ It’s our phones. So hang up and read. These delightful poems tread a line between politics and poetics, finding enchantment in a neighbor who brings over apple cider and chats about raccoons, an owl hunting in the yard, and wolves that lope into your dreams.
88 Maps by Rob Carney
(Lost Horse Press, 2015)
Reviewed by Lexi Jocelyn
18 June 2016
Rob Carney serves as an expert topographer in his most recent collection of poems, aptly titled 88 Maps, guiding readers along various paths in search of a meaningful destination. Carney invites readers to follow as he searches for home within himself, among others, and on the surface of a wild and beautiful earth.
The collection is divided into five sections: “Departures,” “Directions,” “No Return Address,” “Home Appraisals,” and “Arrivals.” The first poem in the book and the only poem under the heading of “Departures” is the one for which the collection is named. “88 Maps” is a series of vignettes detailing the discovery and contents of maps found in the basement of a home. In the opening, Carney establishes his capability for vivid storytelling.
I found them rolled up, dusty, in an old armoire
too big to get out of the cellar—
no way to fit it through the door frame
and angle it up the stairwell—
decades ago he must have hauled down wood
and built it where it stands.
And it’s not just a place to store winter jackets.
He was being deliberately permanent,
sawing, planing, and jointing
more than six feet underground.
The final stanzas of “88 Maps” serve as a transition to the next section of the book as readers embark with Carney as their guide:
I know about maps, though:
the way they all start somewhere,
[. . .] but always arrive at the ocean, stars, or underground
whichever way we go.
“Directions” contains twelve poems in which Carney observes the relationship between human beings and the natural world that surrounds them. The poems in this section serve to highlight place and the improvement of the conditions in which we live. In “Here, in the Rugged, Noble West,” “Suggestions for Urban Renewal:,” and “Here in What Used to Be Mexico,” Carney uses lists to comment on political issues of wildlife management, the preservation of nature in urban environments, and immigration. Contextualized by the national political climate in which we live, the imagery and directness of these poems point to cutting truths that have become all too difficult to keep in focus. From “Suggestions for Urban Renewal”:
10. A new Target’s not where people fall in love.
From “Here in What Used to Be Mexico”:
2. Our language is not a lug nut,
3. and you’re a thinking human being not a wrench.
“No Return Address” consists of four prose poems detailing the complicated intersections of human relationships with the natural world, with sometimes dangerous results. “Undercurrents” portrays the sublimity and danger of the landscape of the American West:
Seems like every weekend in the summer here, someone wants to
take you down to Moab. You go there and hang out and marvel
at nature and beauty [. . .]
[. . .] Somebody died that day. Drowned. [. . .]
[. . .] what I’m saying
is there must be someone who’s still sick about that summer
because this guy they loved went out and ended up dead. No
more telling him it’s time for dinner. No more sex or calling him
on the telephone. Gone. Just memories. And even those getting
less and less every year . . .
In “Lost and Found,” a man is on a boat with a grizzly. “Dinner Date” illustrates a woman’s aversion to chicken. Despite the complexity of the maps illustrated by Carney, simplicity of language creates a series of honest portrayals, depictions of fragile and fickle human life in the 21st century.
The poems in the “Home Appraisals” section of 88 Maps evaluate the priorities of people searching for a home, both literally and metaphorically. Carney’s emphasis is on wildlife—the plunge and pursuit of hawks; the color, texture, and shapes of plants; the smell of “rain on dust;” the attributes of insects; the “shimmer of fish.” Likewise, Carney accentuates the parallels of home and memory construction, as in “2,140 Square Feet”:
You pass between the two through an open arch
but not the kind of arch you see in church,
the kind you find in women: rounded hips,
the small of her back, her somersaulting laugh,
her slow smooth way of coming ‘round from sleep.
or “January 26, 2009”:
Forty-three thousand job cuts in one day,
in just one morning. Thirty thousand more
by late-afternoon. Mine wasn’t one of them.
We’re not part of the millions since last May
who’ve lost their homes—lost porches and front doors,
the mantel ‘round their fireplace, the trim
they painted ‘round the windows one April:
pale green to go with her flower garden.
Or the place where he first saw her naked.
Or their kids’ favorite hiding closet. All . . .
As in the opening section, the final section, “Arrivals,” contains only one poem. The final poem of the collection, “In the Only Zombie Flick I’ll Watch,” finds Carney reaching the X on the map he’s been drawing for the past sixty pages:
It’s generic Defense of the Genre 101:
our anxieties projected,
the dead-alive virus of consumerism,
suburban fear of wild animals
whose wildness is safely on TV,
and so on, and so on. Take your pick.
While Carney does not exempt himself from falling victim to the concepts these zombies represent, he does express a desire to choose the more difficult path—rising above petty consumerism and insubstantial activism. Carney’s map culminates by reaching a conclusion that his place is to find home and strike a balance between coexistence with other human beings and with the natural world.
Though Carney tentatively reaches his conclusion, it is important to note the cultivation of uncertainty in these maps—informing readers that it’s okay to not know all the answers before embarking on the search, to not know all the answers on the way, and it’s okay to not know all the answers once home has been found. As he states in some of the book’s closing lines:
Certainty feels like a flag when you fly it. It snaps in the wind
and makes the sound of your own good name,
of your own high opinion. It’s the opposite of birds.
And it was birds that he was growing, after all: [. . .]
[. . .] One morning he went ‘round his yard on a ladder.
He paid no attention to everyone clapping,
just picked each bird and released it into the sky.