Track This: A Book of Relationship by Stephen Bett

Kelci Baughman McDowell

I really want to hear Stephen Bett read poems from Track This: A Book of Relationship aloud. Because I can’t figure out how to deliver the music of the line, what with all these tiny lines.

I like small lines, and that’s why I agreed to review this book for Switchback. In my own poetry, I often investigate my proclivity toward small lines—what is acceptably small and what is laziness delivered in the guise of brevity.

I have a rule. No one word lines. And if anyone breaks that rule, it has to be a damn good word to stand there alone, carrying the weight of a poem in its microcosm—because each of a poem’s lines should be a poem in itself.

Can I forgive Stephen Bett for breaking my rule? Let’s take a look.
        

    How It Goes         

    We hurt each         
    other so         
    easy         

    Then make it         
    hard
    — taken         
    away         

    Swallow         
    pain         

    How it         
    goes         

    with
    love                 

        (pg. 87)

Speaking of swallowing, although this poem offends on nine counts, I can swallow it. Bett’s poems in this volume do a particular kind of work—it’s as if each poem is one stanza, and each line one word, so the reader measures time as her eye drifts down the page, waiting for the synthesis of hard and easy to deliver love into its dual edged nature: no love without pain. In that careful measure of time, drifting down the page, the one word lines sell me on the amount of time a lover needs to again come to the conclusion of love’s duality.

On the following page, it’s a different story:


    Blue Subtexts         

    Every         
    single         
    time         
    in         
    my         
    life
    things
    going         
    excellently            
    well         

    Something         
    wacks         
    out         
    of
    the         
    blue         

    Listen         
    for         
    another         
    shoe
    to         
    drop
                                 (pg. 88)

Extreme example, I know. Here line is the star of the show, and the poem’s prosody functions off the commitment to that form. Again, the trickle of words down the page measure time in the beats the reader pauses her breath between lines. Yet giving “of” or “for” or “the” its own line is ludicrous because these words are so common, I cannot trust them to carry the weight of a poem in their microcosm.

To pardon this collection of its trespasses of form is to open oneself to a familiar worldview that believes in love and its powers—which makes me a better person. The poems in the first and shorter section of the book, Untracked, amass themselves as debris of observing: we have the witty “Gee,” where a divorce lawyer and a g-string make an appearance, as well as a handful of other funny poems. Then we move onto the meat of the volume, the section called Tracked, which accounts for about 88% of the book. This section literally tracks the birth and growth of a romantic relationship, which at first seems like fodder too common for poems. But about halfway through, as the speaker of the poems begins dealing with the tension in the relationship, the poems grow more complex and engender the struggle of loving and the struggle of poetry. Which I can get behind.

Ultimately I would recommend this book to the casual poetry reader, and perhaps some non-poetry readers. As one review on the back of the book puts it: “Very sweet and clear!” However, those who delight in unpacking poems that employ elaborate word play and complex lines might find this volume unchallenging, or worse, boring.

Read "Take the Measure" from Track This: A Book of Relationship

Track This: A Book of Relationship
By Stephen Bett
BlazeVOX[books], 2010
ISBN 978-1—60964-033-0

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