Jen Tynes. The End of Rude Handles. Red Morning Press: 2006. $12.
This Is (Never) The End
It is common knowledge that a magician, having beguiled her audience, must never produce her secrets to even the most imploring ear, even when prodded, the lucky recipient of squalid apples tossed on stage. Should she let slip her magic potion, her recipe of fashioning, her scrolled map in cipher, our magician risks mockery, or better yet, imitation of the closest degree. Jen Tynes come dangerously close, in the final pages of The End Of Rude Handles, her debut collection of poems from the newly engendered Red Morning Press. But dangerously close is not giving in, and Tynes lingers on the edge for a reason, to sustain her craze with language and its ever pushing limits. The book’s closing section cum prosaic poem cum guidebook colophon is perhaps the collection’s finest feature. In it, Tynes writes:
I’m still new blood and I can’t tell you what I’d do in your
shoes, but I’m trying here to manage two things: always maintain a con-
stant and a variable, make them both get up and walk around sometimes.
Want to have a difficult conversation with someone, ask them what they
mean when they say traitor.
This section, ‘Ways of Contrariness’, acts as a sort of summary and explanatory note to the poems in the rest of the book. This is an odd choice, though, this explaining, since ‘Ways of Contrariness’ is perhaps the book’s most syntactically lucid ‘poem’, while the rest of the book is anything but. ‘Ways of Contrariness’ peels back the curtain on the poet’s philosophy and approach in piecing together the book, and it comments, if obscurely, on the contrariness and cryptic nature of the book’s other pages. The End Of Rude Handles is a brazen collection, progressive in its syntax and form. The very way it presents itself as a book both enacts and possibly shadows its very premise, that language is one tough cookie, and a bottomless cavern of variety. Tynes presents her readers with interactions and meditations on family, on love(r(s)), on the constant combat between and coalescing of power and vulnerability, risk and safe seclusion. And this all against a rural landscape of back yards and unending fields.
Don’t magicians, artists, and writers alike all place their work close to, if not directly upon, the apex of their passions? Here, the poet, along with Foucault and Butler, finds chronic interest, even, at times, obsession, in and of language, its scaffolding and its fleshy parts. In a poem titled fittingly ‘THE END OF RUDE HANDLES’, the poet writes ‘Your hands make / jars everywhere.’, implying that, although meaning is embedded in words (i.e. woman meaning literally ‘of man’), sometimes words mean more than they let on, as in the above reference. The End Of Rude Handles aims to do away with the handholds we think we have on language, and likewise the grip language undeniably has on us.
Tynes seems to simultaneously be in love with and abhor the very wordstuff our world—terrestrial and ethereal—comprises. At first, Tynes comes off as just another Post-Modern voice, pinning words to the page in seemly erratic fashion, all pattern and form gone missing, and thus all sense gone too. She seems to toy with language repeatedly, and baits her readers just so. But simply dismissing Tynes as another Post-Modern oddity wrongly one-ups her otherwise roundabout end—that one cannot, despite all effort, talk about language without first drawing a line where it no longer speaks of itself, but circumnavigates itself. From the page en face to ‘WHO HAS BEEN DEAF FROM BIRTH’:
A continuous economic pressure is between my
skin and yours,
switches its tail.
While, at times, and mostly, the poet’s use of italics and all caps proves useful and uniquely sundry:
Pushed a chair away from the table
FROM BARK AND SEEDS
GOUGES AND OTHER
AROUND DINNER’S NECK BUT NOT WITHOUT
A SENSE OF HISTORY
WHEN YOU CALL IT DOES IT
DROP ITS EYES
ultimately this system tires because it is so random and may or may not be a system at all. Some poems have titles, while others don’t; some poems are titled in all caps, while others aren’t. The pattern is not an easy one to follow, and my guess is Tynes knows this, and respects and feels endeared to it for this very reason. In ‘Ways of Contrariness’, she tells her readers:
hear that some families pass their patterns down by writing them in code
that outsiders can’t decipher. Meaning: first item on the to-do list of any
quilter’s legacy: learn the code.
I don’t write the way people talk; my intention is to make conversation,
make it over and over again until it figures out, fills out, shows itself.
[. . .]
All the italics are mine.
[. . .]
I’m partial to stealing
the heavy, charged parts of things that wouldn’t walk off by themselves.
Tynes knows well what she’s doing, and likely that The End Of Rude Handles requires some additional work from the reader, in a way the reader may not want to dispense his or her energy. It’s not the content and message of Tynes’s poems that becomes taxing and, at times, distracting; there the book lacks nothing of ingenuity or anything novel to say. The back and forth slingshot of Tynes’s method left me wading in her wake, bobbing and groping for a handhold, though not entirely bothered by the sway.
Lines like ‘Caught in the / act of emphasizing.’, from a weighty, imagistic poem describing a pant leg soaked through with monthly blood, ‘Women as waterproof / as pails, men / as waterproof as water.’, ‘WE ADOPTED / THE INSPIRING PRINCIPLE’, and ‘No one traveling / through the country / eats at the side of the road.’, and I’ve again secured my balance, brushed my hair from my eyes, resolved to unlock this book in my hands and get to the marrow of it.
The poet’s diction and her syntax might befuddle readers, but it’s her fearless facing and exploration of life’s scarier corners that holds interest. Jen Tynes’s book sides with a version of poetry that implores readers to do more than just read. The End Of Rude Handles is a dictionary, a phone call, a bus conversation, doing back flips repeatedly. Like a ruddy wise old orangutan hanging from your kitchen light fixture, Tynes has something really good to say, if only you can decipher her.
--Review by Erin M. Bertram.