Ending in Planes by Ellen Kocher
When Thoughts Arrive Faster than a Mindby Natalia Kennedy
In her latest book, Ending in Planes, Ruth Ellen Kocher appears to arrive in letters. My attempt to decode and explore this collection requires consideration of expansion. Picking up Ending in Planes is like returning to childhood, at least it feels similar to a childhood I knew—something wide and sprawling. I can’t comfortably hold this book open with one hand, and as its pages are spread I imagine the wingspan of a large, restless bird. Without trying, I see something taking off. To really access this text— to give it enough time and space—try a lap or a floor, a bed or a table. Note: reading this book on the train or a bus will likely result in the disturbance of neighbors.
Not only are Kocher’s poetic lines attempting to roll off the page, but the formal design of this book, from Noemi Press, pushes at standard or expected physical boundaries of book as a form. Find a bundle of pages bound, not set in rigidity. Ending in Planes should be viewed as an artifact as much as a published text. I trust that within these poems I am granted access to the most important crumbs of a life and from there encouraged but not required to make meaning. This meaning making, “the meat” we are taught to crave, becomes more a decision at play rather than a necessity of classification. Similarly, the way Kocher’s language is excused of certain or any punctuation allows writer and reader to resist attempts at containment. The fourth part of a longer poem, “Sequence Ending in Desire,” shows thoughts and lines blurring together because Kocher refuses to bind them:
Forget something burns You imagine coffee without cream Oatmeal Not name A word that gives you up Never this Nor the/
sound of leaving a room
New or next ideas, phrases, or sentences begin with capitalized letters, but the reading, visually and aurally, of these lines grants individual viewers an opportunity for reorganization. This blended sentencing happens throughout the book and seems to address some of the limits of language that Kocher deals with in poems such as “Making a Scene.” The effect for me is akin to an impression I get reading Shane McCrae’s Mule: as though some ideas achieve their greatest potency when they are left to roam—not entirely transported to the awaiting form of the “complete” and corralled sentence. When thoughts arrive faster than a mind can make sense of them writers and readers are sometimes forced/allowed to deal in utterances. Not a bad thing.
Although many of Kocher’s poems posses an outreaching or ongoing quality of line that seems reminiscent of Leaves of Grass, perhaps even Tender Buttons, certain latter portions become more fragmented and traditionally lyrical as they continue to hover over themes such as domestic object(s), intimate gesture, and sensory perception. The book’s epigraph actually comes from Whitman. His quote, “There was never any more inception than there is now…” perhaps suggests the significance of re-making in order to land someplace new. Importance seems to come from the use of objects and forms as much as their translation and construction for the individual becomes new and relevant because it lives only specifically in the now.
After inhabiting the intimate spaces of many poems I started to read long-line utterances as pieces to a letter—an epistle of many shapes traveling on a specific trajectory. The following lines from “Insomnia For the Wet Horses” can impress thoughts and questions pointed at me, the reader, but they can also exist in other planes—missives launched toward specific ears. An inviting and enjoyable duality.
Who are you on a rock? Who are you on a boat? Who are you at the café counter in Sevilla? You ask the man Are the goats/happy? Are the goats happy? He points to the cheese.
Like a letter to a lover or a dear friend the affordances of epistolary writing seem to present themselves in the ways that they handle transparencies. I’m thinking about the obvious versus the obviously felt. Kocher crafts language that utters what it means as precisely as it can and leaves the rest to readers who must feel, see, touch, smell, and hear all else left unpacked or declared.