The best reason to belong to the American Academy of Poets is their periodic delivery of books con­taining the work of new and rising poets. It is both a pleasure and a chal­lenge to acquaint oneself with what is modern and, dare I say it, what is poetry. An MA degree in English/​Creative Writing without the F for Fine between the M and the A should be a clear indi­cator of the dis­tance traveled to reach my own comfort zone for some of today’s poetry.

With that said, those of you familiar with modern poetry can imagine my reaction to receiving a copy of Anna Moschovakis’ James Laughlin Award winning book, You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake. I read it in almost one sitting. The second reading took a bit longer. Had a few ideas – made a list. Lists are good and often offer an inter­esting pre­cursor. To what, you might ask? To whatever is present or imagined, and did not exist before the list.

When I was still in grad school, a young Michael Palmer strongly advised us stu­dents to omit “I really liked the poem” from any com­mentary. So, Moschovakis’ poetry worked for me (“worked” became the replacement word for “liked”). As a matter of fact, You and Three Others are Approaching a Lake worked very well for me, which proves that a poet does not have to be par­tic­u­larly acces­sible to write suc­cessful poetry. The title alone seems at once per­sonal and mys­te­rious – You, the reader; Three Others, who are they?; Approaching a Lake, what lake? At the end of the book, after reading through Moschovakis’ Notes and how she came to this work, I won­dered if the Notes might have been better pre­sented at the beginning of the book. They are infor­mative and give the reader important back­ground. On the other hand, read at the end, the Notes become an encour­agement for a second or third reading.

Moschovakis admits that the book is a mix of both essay and poetry and describes her own writing as beginning “in the expe­rience of dis­comfort, lack of mastery, or failure, and the decision to inter­rogate it in lan­guage.” You and Three Others are Approaching a Lake is a world created by the poet, but it is also our world, a world of con­sumption, waste, wealth, and the mystery of how we arrived at this state and what our des­ti­nation or our own stories might be.

The book begins with a [pro­logue], a poem starting with a couplet and expanding itself by one line until we reach the last stanza of five lines. Moschovakis writes a near poetic con­tract: In a perfect world I would be able to con­vince you of this/…………Everybody should always have a position on everything/​We take our posi­tions with us, like folding stools to the beach/……..And I will go with you to the end of this argument/​As I have gone with you to the beach/…………And we will pick a street to carry us home/​ The [pro­logue] is a strong and strangely intimate invi­tation to read what the poet has to say.

The book is divided into five addi­tional poems: Tragedy of Waste, Death as a Way of Life, The Human Machine, In Search of Wealth, and Epi­logue. The key to taking this work as poetry is to trust the poet and her use of lan­guage as well as your own sense of adventure. She makes use of lists, scripted dia­logues, out­ra­geous quotes, found poetry from on-​​line posts, and pow­erful ref­er­ences to the eco­nomic world of our past and its sci­en­tific coun­terpart that may lie ahead (she has more than a few ref­er­ences to Turin). And although the older reader may feel somewhat lost in the modernity of this work, Moschovakis often moves words from indi­vidual lines in and out of her poems in a “nod” to the vil­lanelle. Just as life often turns on itself, the rhythm and words in these poems move in a similar manner.

The thread of lan­guage woven by Moschovakis is made up of realism. It is woven into pat­terns that are explanatory, evocative, some­times humorous and ulti­mately into an imag­i­native work that, in spite of the seri­ousness of its subject, does not condemn, but is cau­tiously celebratory.

In her Epi­logue the poet brings the reader into both present and future: Science tells us that the speed at which we read indi­cates we take in/​whole words and some­times whole sen­tences, com­plete or incomplete./ But still we type one letter at a time./ One letter at a time we build rela­tion­ships even though the letter is/​only a virtual letter and the labor, such as it is, is free./

Five stanzas later, she closes with: Dear Reader, your doc­u­mentary is prize winning. It’s your life and/​we have come to cel­e­brate it./

You and Three Others are Approaching a Lake deserves its accolades.


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