Spacing revvs up with Expressway

Book review: Expressway
By Katherine McLeod
August 25 2009

Two new books ... each use systems of mass transit — the subway and the expressway — to investigate the condition of contemporary life. Working both as metaphors and settings for the experiences the poems document, these transit routes become analogies for language — which also brings people from place to place, and from person to person.

[Review of Philip Quinn's The SubWay follows.]

Moving from public train to private car, Sina Queyras' Expressway deconstructs our expectations of this capitalist symbol of the mobile self. This collection does not start inside an automobile, but rather places readers beside the I-95, looking at the cars roaring past on the expressway. It is the expressway as representative of modern civilization that is under scrutiny in this book of poems.

Sharing the anonymity of subway riders in Quinn's The SubWay, Queyras' speaker riffs on Wordsworth as she wanders 'lonely as a cloud, dappled, drowned / A melancholic pace and nowhere untouched.' The poetry is packed with rich fragments and phrases that follow each other like cars as they extend onto on-ramps and exits refusing to cohere, or rather refusing to adhere to a system of containing that is concrete. For instance, 'Murmurings, Movements, or Fringe Manifesto' articulates this character of the expressway that constantly exceeds itself: 'The expressway is the future. / The expressway is the market. / The expressway is the line endless. / The expressway contains multitudes.' In exploring and expressing these multitudes of meaning, the poem as a form becomes part of the expressway: 'the poem is a connector, the poem is not a country lane, there is nowhere that doesn't lead here [and] there is nowhere this is not. There is nowhere I.' Queyras' poems poignantly ask what this nowhere means to the people who travel not towards, but within it.

Whether writing as a passenger on a subway barreling through a nowhere space between stations, or as a driver forging her own path amid an intricate network of laneways, both Quinn and Queyras show what poetry can do when it simultaneously maps roadways of transportation and lines of human thought.

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