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YOU'VE JUST BEEN TOLD by Elizabeth Macklin


by Elizabeth Macklin

Pub Date: April 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-393-04867-5
Publisher: Norton

``Half the house here belongs to me. Half belongs to sound.'' Thus beautifully begins Macklin's second collection of poems, a reflection on loss and memory. ``In the taste / of the sour apple / is the bee''—and therein the history of everything required to bring us the apple. But our timing is off—the apple is unripe. Similarly, when we speak with intended clarity, we fail. Even in poems, which Macklin compares with mazes, ``just when you think you're getting close / to the center, you're moved away.'' At times Macklin pauses before her subject; at other times she maneuvers as if imagining lives while gazing at paintings—lives once removed, as it were. Memory, she seems to be saying, works exactly this way. Yet her poems seem risen from experience and from the awareness that what we lose remains in us, if skewed. The titles of the book's three sections (“Grammars of Attention,” “The Editorial We,” and “Persons Plural”) assert Macklin's preoccupation with the confusions of language. She contends that ``stories alone'' cannot reveal the truth without attention to (grammatical) rules we too often complain against. The way things are said is vital, but we frequently misspeak or misunderstand—and yet we construct our lives in response to such inaccuracies. How unfortunate that even thought depends on the undependable language in which it is threaded! ``Here is the sound I've missed,'' Macklin announces in one poem, knowing the reader can never hear it. And yet her poems aspire to help us accomplish exactly that.

``I seized what is nowadays made to seem / nearly nothing,'' Macklin writes. If she means by ``nearly nothing,'' poetry itself, we can be glad she did.