Endlessly Rewarding: Joe Sullivan on Shya Scanlon’s In This Alone Impulse


Shya Scanlon, In This Alone Impulse, Noemi Press

Shya Scanlon’s In This Alone Impulse is impossible to categorize and endlessly rewarding. His ability to play with words, to jumble them and change their meaning through the jumbling, is what makes it unique and, ultimately, moving. By altering the construction of sentences beyond the conventional (especially earlier in the book), Scanlon creates more of a mood with many of these poems than something to be taken literally by the actual words. It’s like an impressionist’s painting in many instances. Case in point, the poem “Killing, riding” has a title that seemingly refers to something vigilante and deadly, but its words at face value don’t necessarily go along with that:

This like we, likely, is this is, undo. Take this out not far but take it
widely, so it sits beside us. It should serve as something undid, or else,
dust. I hurry to touch it. I hurry to peel me up, and finger, and hurry
to hand it over as something, something over more than, breaks from
over what, from that unbroken smoothness. This sums us up. This is that
knuckle we said would carry things into a broad, clear brightness, and
bend and watch them burn.

But after careful reading and referring back to the poem’s title, the words, in their way, do conjure movement (“hurry”), as in a ride, and they do create the mood of an end (“undid,” “dust,” “sums up”) as in a killing, carried out with witnesses, it seems: the “we.” Or maybe the “we” refers to a conversation between the killer and the dead. The poem could be interpreted as a prayer over a necessary ending.
All of the poems are in a seven-line format, and within those lines are many quick-witted, playful conversations between the author and his mind, or between his mind and his external environment. At times, the mind works through dreams, and many of these poems, with the way words are arranged or used and misused, hyper-used even, seem to emulate dream dialogues. Scanlon meets and converses with images from his past and present, his family, his childhood, a day at the beach, his loves and his struggles.
“Wicked toes” is a good example of this playfulness and unconscious dialogue that might seem garbled in real-life, but perfectly logical in the context of a dream:

The sand is well, oh my, is clear. Is sees us through it. Is rakes over us.
Is be in the beginning. This sand is bare is, bore is, is cannot crack or
crease. Please within this. Please to something, not enough than, sander
than, more sand etc…

Prior to the poems about poet Tony Hoagland in the last quarter of this collection, the book is floating, metamorphosing, getting ready for something. But in the three about Tony (and beyond them), the abstraction that came before crystallizes into something more concrete. These poems strike the reader as more direct:

Tony shows me the money. Nice, I say. How much is it? Who knows, I
say. We went to all those rides with just one ticket. It was a marvel… (from “Stench it, period”)

A moving forward and an illumination occurs. There is a little less wordplay and more references to specific physical entities and beings. It’s as if Scanlon’s awoken from his dream or out of the alone-ness of sleep or meditation back into the physical world and its social activities:

Erin wags a little finger on her fist. I pass out of the kitchen with the
chicken. The television is on; the stereo is on; the lights are on, and she
bends down dancing with Hansom. There is a memory in my head that
is trying to escape… (from “Imagine next”)

But even in the mundane trappings of real-world exploits, the latter “realer” poems in the collection still contain lines that awaken goose bumps. “Tape around the Wait,” a poem that refers to an office co-worker, holds what may be the loveliest line of the book: “Can I take you to the copy machine and draw light across your skin?”

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A dance magazine editor by day, Joe Sullivan is author of a novel, Three Thirds, and recent fiction in Monkeybicycle and Overflow magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his family.

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2 responses to “Endlessly Rewarding: Joe Sullivan on Shya Scanlon’s In This Alone Impulse

  1. Here is a book I’m guessing if I picked it up and browsed through it, I probably would not make it to a second poem. Thanks to Joe Sullivan’s insightful words, I might make it through the book.

  2. Pingback: Review of ITAI at Gently Read Literature Today « Joe Sullivan