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A Future That Never Arrives: Some thoughts on Matt Rasmussen’s BLACK APERTURE

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There are some books that resurface: a friend finally gives back the borrowed copy, you find them under furniture, or stuffed behind others on a shelf, but when they return to you, it really feels like a return and you immediately get to rereading. When do books become a part of us? Why do some feel like we’ve always known them? We all have our own literary canon. And here’s one of mine that recently fell back into my life: Matt Rasmussen’s debut collection BLACK APERTURE.

In these 61 pages of poetry, Rasmussen takes on his brother’s suicide from all angles and to the point of absurd talent. Some of these poems feel perfect. I don’t say this frivolously. Rasmussen composes the poems with an ear toward exactness. Nothing is unnecessary, and the juxtaposition between this tightly pulled collection and its wild subject of suicide only draws attention to the poet’s level of craft. He is putting into pure practice what Wordsworth called “emotion recollected in tranquility.”

Consider one of the most profound poems in BLACK APERTURE, “Outgoing,” where the poet’s father asks the poet to record his own voice over his now dead brother’s on their answering machine. He writes, “The clear cassette / lay inside the white machine like a tiny patient / being monitored or a miniature glass briefcase / protecting the scroll of lost voices.” Rasmussen’s imagination drives the collection forward, giving the book holiness instead of the grotesque. Just look at his language in these lines: words like clear, tiny, miniature, protecting, and scroll resonate in a spiritual sense, an anti-self-induced-gunshot. BLACK APERTURE is really a meditation on suicide, on grief, on memory, “I pressed record / and laid my voice over yours…”

Throughout the collection, the idea of a body existing within a specific landscape recurs. Rasmussen does this, I feel, to emphasize the space left once a body no longer fills it. His depictions of landscape are remarkable. Here’s the opening line of a poem, “The orange leaves / rocked back and forth / through the air / as if someone was / scraping the rust / off the sunset.” Good luck finding a better line describing autumn leaves. Rasmussen has mastered the poetic image yet also knows the most effective place to put it.

Many of us think about bad poetry as being about things such as suicide. To write an entire book about it could have been a disaster, a farce; yet, Rasmussen’s was a finalist for the National Book Award. This book should be read in one sitting and you should be alone. There are some books we are so fortunate as readers to get to experience. This is one of them for me. Are we just at the right place to “get” them? For whatever reason, these seem far and few in between. I think I forget to be grateful for them. Here’s some gratitude.

Black Aperture Cover Image
ISBN: 9780807150863
Availability: Not in store - usually arrives in 3 - 5 business days
Published: Louisiana State University Press - May 13th, 2013