Brian Teare is a kind soul. The inscription in my book, Pleasure, (we briefly/barely spoke twice) reads: “2.4.11 AWP… for Sarah—we’ll talk more—in the mean time: w/ pleasure & respect for your quest/ions—As ever, B—”
There is no safety in the two sections of Brian Teare’s Pleasure. Each time I read this book, it is relentlessly heartbreaking and raw. I feel “Stuck in the garden, incredibly guilty.” This book is an exercise of self-splitting.
While Brian Teare’s first book The Room Where I Was Born explores incest and sexual abuse through the terrifying lens of fairytale and folklore, his third book, Pleasure, remains in the landscape of rules where knowing or not knowing is power. In essence, I feel we are still wrestling with concepts of home, the lack of safety, and the knowledge that is the wilderness. Both The Room Where I Was Born and Pleasure, highlight the power in what is untold and the meaning of the act of telling. The knowledge, the fall (much like paradise, Eden, the ultimate wilderness), the act of violence, is tragically what creates the deep and intimate bond between perpetrator and victim or the survivor and deceased. What I mean is that there is something shared between them, a truth of what happened, knowledge, a secret that keeps them connected. The fall in Pleasure seems to happen again and again, which calls into question: What is paradise? It is pleasure?
In The Room Where I Was Born, the child who, “will fall all night, and it will go unheard” reminds me of the people who silently disappear into the wilderness, fall into cracks, crevasses, and lakes. Teare’s writing also highlights the concept of punishment or perhaps a lack of accountability. There can be no revenge on the wild, really. The perpetrator of destruction and violence (at least in these poems) sees no justices (if there is such a thing). What I think is most important about Teare’s confrontation of wilderness is the absolute absence of safety. Even in his house, his home, among family, in the room where he was born, there is danger rather than respite or sanctuary. The wilderness that he has created, in many ways, lacks any element of salvation, except in the act itself of writing the poem. The mother is ever present, but never protective. This leads me to the idea of “mother nature” or nature as being somehow maternal, which I resist and so do these poems. Rather, here (in both books), nature is not maternal, but seriously indifferent to human suffering.
In terms of order, The Room Where I Was Born, begins with a fairytale-like explanation of incest and abuse and progresses towards the end of the book where we see a (man/boy) as prostitute, the cycle of violence comes full circle. We see the effects of abuse and the desire to explain, control, or take power by through convincing the self that these sexual acts are a decision. This is often a common and complicated result of surviving abuse.
Pleasure is a eulogy for J, that begins with the end of of life in the “Dead House Sonnet.” The first section takes us through the labyrinth like garden of hospital visits, guilt, and grieving. Section 2 of this book begins and ends with a poem titled “Californian,” which is used as a title 3 times.
In section 1, the incredible repetition and literal layering of form, the use and misuse of language, and the reinterpretations of meaning creates a feeling of being haunted, of facing death and realizing that things, people, and memories don’t really die at all. This text challenges our versions of reality and asks the question: Who is responsible? What is blame? Teare explores the dangerous and powerful act of naming. In poems like “Eden Tiresias,” we are shown the way two poems (two people) fit perfectly together. This fitting is the greatest sadness. To see the poems’ separation and then their glorious combination–this is magic.
The first section also invites the reader into the world of the AIDs epidemic. In section III of “Of Paradise and the Structure of Gardens,” Teare writes, “Between the real and what’s desired;/ between sickbed rags, blood-tinged// scat and colognes, sweat/ and cum, who isn’t historical// anymore?”
We are forced to come to terms with our inability to understand “epidemic” and our inadequacies to comfort the ones we love. In section II of “Of Paradise and the Structure of Gardens,” Teare writes, “—a common// immunology mapped among fish/ and dragons, immense seas, the unknown// a history of longing impossibly/ for the previous, shifting farther// offshore as knowledge sailed/ farther from the kingdom// and dead said Let there be/ a record, let memory live a little// longer : …” Here, Teare examines the idea of immunology, of being immune, and of having immunity from despair and the ravages of disease. In many ways, we are asked: What was/is pleasure? Is it the ability to recall the actual sensation, even now?
In section VII Teare struggles with the shame of using gloves with his beloved: “By then, sweat/ and shit, the ruin of his skin.// Who touched him touched/ with gloves.” This section confronts physical boundaries and our need to be sanitary and the consequences of treating each other with such coldness and also such care. The barriers of gloves and masks mirror the barriers of poetic form and of living a life. Teare writes of, “living in the gap between/ what we know and what we don’t.” It seems as though Pleasure can only exist in this ethereal space.
Section 2 brings us into the realm of remembering. In the first “Californian” he writes: “So there were two songs// sung in counterpoint/ to jays, arguments about belonging to// a place,–remember–/ prey and prayers, on struck// the other beneath the lyric image…” and the poems end with “…How// already the church was burning/ when your soul went out to meet him, to marry// his new weather—” When we move from the paralysis of guilt into the paralysis of fear through memory, we are followed by the incessant duality of song, of argument, and of image.
This section is also about fragments, fear, waiting, and the difficulties of recording trauma. In the poem “2—Fragment 51” Teare writes: “… light lending the hour/ density; ‘I am in two minds’/ while reading—” This book, in two sections, involving two lovers, is about the tragedy of one person trying to keep the other alive literally and metaphysically within himself.
In the second “Californian” Teare opens with “You want to go back/ where grief was perfect weather…” and ends with “It seems// you have come back—but/ the money of your elegies is no good here,// listen : it isn’t your pennies any longer/ hold his eyes closed.” And, in the third and final “Californian,” we see the repetition of two minds and the lyric re-layered as: “A lyric has no mind// it wouldn’t barter for certainty. Arabesque, error: metaphor is doubt/ of a kind : // of two minds : of being/ asking after one who has died, and the lighthouse// shunting its white eye in fog, its voice/ an order of inquiry// of no color or echo.”
I love that Teare uses form as a vehicle, as a gap, and as a burden on the reader. The form and ourselves (as living) seem so insufficient in problem solving, in our ability to show up for one another, and incapable of communicating all of the things we are so ill equipped to say. I have found all of his work to be painful, freeing, and able to transcend the limitations of poetry merely written on a page. After I read his work, I am reassured that we are never apart from those who become a part of us, and we are never truly apart from ourselves no matter how devastating our grief and longing.
You should read these books immediately!!