Study Questions for Century Swept Brutal

   I recently taught Zach Savich's, exuberant, singular, shifty fourth book to a class. To prepare them (me), I typed up a set of study questions, "Spark Notes for books no one will ever read" Zach called them, offering them up to the class as a sideways route into his book. I'm not sure if anyone read them or not.

    Afterwards, I got to dreaming about Zach Sav reading clubs, extraordinary citizens gathered at kitchen tables, answering my questions. You could locate one based on the quality of light issuing through the windows. And so I present them here to you, gentle readers, that you may yourself become extraordinary with others.

    OK, a rough feature: I'm calling it the mirroring effect, Zach I think calls it the echo effect although "echo effect" sounds more like something I would say he says rather than something he says, but whatever you call it, it begins in earnest (I think) on page 55. As well as the echo of "filling a book" in part one. And the tuning of strings. And the pockets and asters. And the naming of things. And the eye whites tattoo. Comment.

     On some level, or maybe in certain places is the better way to put it, the book is epigrammatic. The first sentence, for instance, or much of part one, or much of part one and parts of the rest. Is that right? But the actual definition of "epigrammatic" sometimes includes "clever" as a descriptor, which doesn't seem to capture what's going on in Zach's poems, does it? "Clever" seeming thin, satisfied, slight, and these poems are doing something else, aren't they? Although there is the line about standing between hot and dog, and there are some jokes. Comment.

    What would you say is the book's relationship to looking?
    To thinking?

    Here's a famous thing Auden said: "American poetry has many tones, a man talking to himself or to one intimate friend, a prophet crying in the wilderness, but the easy-going tone of a man talking to his group of peers is rare." So. To whom is Zach talking? And don't give us any of that poet/speaker nonsense please.

    Is "I wanted to be returned instead/to semblance" (p. 33) the center of the book?

    The book is chatty/figurative/descriptive but one at a time. Is that true?

    Something I admire about Zach's poems: whatever ones takes to be the "level of difficulty" or whatever, that difficulty is always gentle. Which balancing act seems on full display in CSB. The book, I mean, in the friendliest way imaginable, simply refuses to do or say anything but that which it desires to do or say. And the doing and saying, I present to you, is so controlled and consistent and warm . . . that the difficulty, if that's even what it is, maybe the better way to put it would be singularity of the book, it becomes a total pleasure. You're just encountering another's way of thinking, seeing, doing, phrasing. This is not a question.

    Maybe the book is partly an inquiry into the range of possibilities of the poetic line. What's it discover there?

    Page 53 has a reference to the famous M.H. Abrams book The Mirror and the Lamp. Incidentally this reference occurs at the precise center of the book, but I am not going to overstate that particular fact. "I don't tell her/that's a reference," the poem says. Forget the fact of it being the spatial center. Is that gesture at the spiritual-aesthetic center of the book? (Later, on p. 104, maybe an echo: "I'm talking to somebody/just out of sight") Or is page 88 the S-A center: "In the distance,//a seaplane lands/on a rock. The horizon turns//me on on/me me on"?

    "Sun badge"! "Noon's canoe"!

    When the book is funny (e.g. end of part five, end of part six, p. 85), it is really funny. Yes?

    "My life moving/mostly in pauses"!


A big thank you to Michael Loughran for contributing this saucy study guide to our blog.  We suspect it will be the first of many.