In The Other World, a chapbook of poems by Lucy Biederman, the speaker courts a beloved other, a cowboy. Biederman has the poetic eye and logic of love and truth at stake in her beautiful poems. Eros, and all the elusiveness it inherently encompasses within Anne Carson’s definition of love, Biederman reveals to be the “sweetbitter” experience of these poems.
If eros is that unknowable force that pulls the speaker and the cowboy to approach each other each as an other, then that is love: otherness relative to identities. In The Other World, Biederman paints the romantic preconceptions, or conceptions, or postconceptions that exist of the beloved: the way language can also function in how we remember and express love and the beloved. There is fierceness in pursuit of the other, whether the borders are those of self, culture, or expression.
Biederman’s beloved cowboy is “unlined” and “untimed”; he has a “mess around his borders”. In a literal sense, the cowboy is Texas: rendered the land, unexplored to this speaker. In a figurative way, he is constantly shifting his identity, constantly out of literal grasp; he is quite simply a coveted other. There is a beautiful inversion of expectation in Biederman’s language: the masculine cowboy rendered what is usually feminine: nature. In the figurative sense, it is the speaker exploring the beloved’s “borders” of self, approaching to understand and experience his otherness.
His things are artifacts
Old as an unused tree
The usefulness of love, the actions revolving around love, and the love poem become an all-encompassing impossible, futile force. The poems try to explain love within different genders, cultural gaps between individual selves, or the essential identity borders delineating selves and how these inform expectation:
You say you’re a devil, but you won’t even clap.
In The Other World, the tension between inclusiveness and exclusion, especially as this tension relates to the self/beloved other, characters/their lands, and identity/its containment within its surroundings is at constant play:
I’ve never been to Texas, for example
During some yellow, mildewed century
Out on the sidewalk
It’s pushing us, pulling us along
In these lines, there is immediate perceptible tension between collective and individual pronouns. The “I” excludes herself from having been to Texas, but the “I” is an explicit part of the collective passive object of “pushing” and “pulling”. The boundaries of the self in relation to the surroundings are variable. The force binding these varied meanings is that of love. The containment of the self, as an autonomous being, is made elusive by mysterious pronouns with no clear referents such as “it”. This “it” is delightfully almost conveyed to us later:
In the wavy space around him
So, the “it” here is rendered that (still elusive) thing that “thickens” in the “wavy space around him”. The beloved’s “borders” of self and identity might be what the “it” refers to, then. The borders delineating and isolating the beloved other to/from the self are what renders the “I” an “us”, thus exerting forces on the self and the beloved other.
Then, in a poetic and feminist context, what is otherness? how is it constructed as a simultaneous force of attraction and distancing?
I’d love to love a cowboy
Biederman writes “love” twice in one line, within one sentence: a way of distancing the sentiment from the reality of it. There is an attraction to otherness that is delightfully inevitable. There is a “love” declared for the “idea of being in love”. There is an awareness of wanting here that is exceptional and time defying.
Singing two songs at once
When he touched me the world spun in the opposite direction
Finally, here is a microscopic look at Biederman’s line: how a lyric reasoning expressed through simile can express the impossibility of multifaceted truth:
His shadow falls so heavily
It mats the grass on which it falls
There are two truths to the word “mats” here. One is that of the noun (or the physical) sense of the word “mat”: a tangled or woven fiber covering. The other truth is that of the verb (or abstract) form of the word mat. The abstract understanding of the word reinforces what we can hold as a truth. A shadow will fall on the grass and make it seem darker, duller. What the reader may see, though, is an actual physical mat, obstructing and covering. The reader’s eye may impose an untrue image, a non-existent object that exists in the timelessness of the reader’s imagination.
There is an untruth to describing an other, one that will always be inherent in our perception: that of timelessness and imagination. Biederman displays that through her attentive and honest eye.