Exclusions, by Noah Falck. North Adams, Massachusetts: Tupelo Press, August 2020. 70 pages. $17.95, paper.
I suppose any discussion of Noah Falck’s most recent book, Exclusions, should begin with the topic of its title, and the premise this title delivers to the poems within. For Exclusions is certainly what one might call a concept book or a poetry cycle: a collection of fifty or so poems that follow a common organizational theme, each poem responding (in various ways) to the repeated statement: “Poem Excluding …” So yes, a concept. Yet, Exclusions moves far beyond any mere pattern or scheme of its title. And of course, this becomes the point of the writing—Falck’s true modus operandi. Thus, each poem acts as a manifesto, both arresting and bizarre, of what it is not, of what it might be otherwise, or of what might occur in the spaces left behind.
My favorite feature of these poems is how they seemingly continue on forever. How “the weather / that repeats and repeats / in another geography” often abuts characters who “give us a look / that says, ‘I’ll tell you later.’” Falck’s endings are new and surprising beginnings; or else they pivot into final, delightful conundrums: “Like the / hierarchy of pedestrians, everything / was a riddle.” Even when Falck declares at the conclusion of “Poem Excluding Mechanics,” that “It feels like the end of the imagination,” we may rest assured that on the next page an odd kind of poetic Rube Goldberg device will spark to life again.
There’s something of Rosmarie Waldrop’s “quasi-unending sentence” throughout the book: scenes and images that morph or flip into one another, tensioned by the short lines of the poems. These flips also lend a key formal element to the book: a volta (or more) that charges each poem and generates a potential energy that we learn to sense, yet never fully anticipate.
Falck is strongest in his improvisations. In his methods of introducing us to an idea, catching and directing our attention before subverting it again. Or rather, before compounding it. For, as I write above, these poems are more about what’s here, than not. And there’s a lot here. Falck continually revises and multiplies his metaphors. Exclusions is fraught with addendums and second-guesses, and these are what make the world of Falck’s poems so real, so relatable. He layers most poems with fabulous impossibilities; yet, these impossibilities somehow refract and reflect the all-too-possible absurdities and enigmas of everyday life. Take, for instance, “Poem Excluding Change”:
Today every person in the world
is born again, again. Every single
person in the entire world is wearing
a black t-shirt storming
the nearest shoreline.
Today, summer is slang
for summer, is locked inside
every parked car in the city
and the wind is nothing more
than a collection of brilliant sighs.
The speaker here challenges our capacities for fact and reason. Surely they can’t be serious, can they? Yet, it’s the bold fiction of these poems that usher us inside and invite us to re-evaluate our assumptions. To look with keener eyes at what exactly is going on in the corner of the room, or with the clouds in the sky, or amid the parking lot of the mall. Falck warps typical phenomena into unlikely forms—sometimes cartoonishly, sometimes cinematically—so that as readers we may better articulate the events and feelings of our own lives, which are often more anomalous than we credit them for being.
I cite the weather—the clouds in the sky, and the wind as “a collection of brilliant sighs”—and I believe the subject bears further study. Descriptions of the weather appear (as weather is ought) in almost every poem of Exclusions; and if not the weather, then consequences or aspects of the natural environment. Falck uses these descriptions to place his poems and establish depth, for example: “In the distance, the lake erases / the last of the windsurfers.” Falck also imagines the weather in more profound and insinuating ways, as in “the sun flattens / into a sort of messy bruise or again, the fog, / how it removed everything and then it didn’t.” This last line is one of my favorites because it embodies so much of the overall effect of the book—an awareness of ineffable particulars that nonetheless feel familiar, even obvious. Additionally, the descriptions remind me of John Ashbery’s profile of the artist Yves Klein, when Ashbery relates how Klein once “attached a freshly painted canvas to the roof of his car and drove from Paris to Nice; the canvas was ‘prematurely aged’ by the effects of heat, cold, sunlight, wind and rain.” I read many of Falck’s poems like this, as exposed to the elements and illustrating, incorporating the contact.
Exclusions is a collection of brief and intoxicating poems; before I finish one, I feel I’m on to the next. The table of contents alone is enough to convince any inquisitive reader—a list of the abbreviated titles forming a separate, interesting collage: Fiction War Public Transportation Pastoral Birthday Parking Meters Future. In the margins of my own copy, I notice that I’ve scrawled, “poems = love letters to lovers and strangers alike.” And I think this statement is accurate, albeit a bit contrived. Any person, no matter their interests, will find something to relish in this book; a poem perhaps, mysteriously addressed specifically to them.
Will Stanier is a poet and letterpress printer from Athens, Georgia. He currently lives in Tucson, where he graduated from the University of Arizona’s MFA in Creative Writing. He is the author of a chapbook, Everything Happens Next (Blue Arrangements, 2020). His poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Cleaver Magazine, Interim, The Volta, Pacifica, and Lazy Susan.