Alec Niedenthal Reviews Lamp like l’map, by Ben Estes

Lamp like l’mapLamp like l’map

Poems by Ben Estes with drawings by Zachary Schomburg
Factory Hollow Press

Reviewed by Alec Niedenthal
Lamp like l’map is poetry in search of a subject. It concerns itself with objects—leaf, arch, wool, vault, weed, cathedral—but deprives them of material force; the language itself acquires the status of equipment. Ben Estes does not find poetry in objects: he instead finds objects in poetry. His chapbook is not so much concerned with how the object relates to a subject—the personal or profound materials with which the object is equipped—as it is with how the object and subject are inevitably the same.

From “Vault,” an exemplary poem: “Vault lollipop vault. Vault area. Conditions of vaulting.” What are the conditions of vaulting? Precisely the vaulting of vault; “vault”—the word as object of the poem—vaults. But for Estes, objects are not as easy as their invocations. He loses “vault” as the poem goes on:

Honey I’m vault. Upturn the vault. Getting here
from above. Getting hungry. Getting defeated. Getting to
the glade. Getting bleaker. Getting to be adored. Getting
frightened. Getting hopeful. Getting fancy, and getting the
intent, and legal, and so on and so on…

The poem loses its object—but to what? “Is there a vault?” the poem asks, further on. “Am I the vault?” The vault announces itself as “I”—thusly, Estes makes his objects speak. But he does not surround his objects (especially in “Intention” and “Books and Plants”) with personal material, but opens them up to, and in, speech. Lamp like l’map: Do we encounter the lamp or the map? The physical material—the lamp—or the language by which it is constituted? Are the two any different? In Estes’s poems—textured, spare, at once material and abstract—they are inextricably bound.


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