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In The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, Brian Teare explores paradox. Teachers are sought and rejected (the Buddha, Christian thinkers, an Abstract Expressionist painter); illness is at once personless violence and a means of perfection; the body, both physical and a nostalgic memory from the days before sickness. There is also heaven itself: something Agnes Martin’s In The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, Brian Teare explores paradox. Teachers are sought and rejected (the Buddha, Christian thinkers, an Abstract Expressionist painter); illness is at once personless violence and a means of perfection; the body, both physical and a nostalgic memory from the days before sickness. There is also heaven itself: something Agnes Martin’s Buddhist readings would insist is possible and current on earth, but a notion that the sufferer ruptures by existing. The space of the hospital—designed to be as utilitarian and perfect as graph paper, filled however with blood tests, nausea, vomiting, weeping—becomes a palpable hell. Teare’s title is in this way wishful thinking, a goal prayed for: perhaps the form of the body, emptied of the illness that entered it uninvited, can attain heaven, though altered by messy suffering. Indeed, the calmed body may be a new object entirely, as void as it is beautifully scarred by its new understanding: “form empties itself / on its way to heaven.” “Titled with Agnes Martin’s singularly flowing lines, these poems weave phrases from writers as rangy as Larry Eigner and Rosalind Krauss, Antonio Damasio and Maurice Blanchot together with an evolving examination of the immediate experience of illness and pain. In The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, a kind of stillness gradually builds through these carefully-shaped pieces, a distilled poise in which one comes to hear Agnes Martin as one simultaneously sees the Zen koan that the collection itself slowly, precisely forms.” —Cole Swensen “To live we must bring perception and proprioception into alignment; outer and inner must correspond. Disease threatens this correspondence. Teare, struggling with illness, searches for lost balance through an intense engagement with the painting of Agnes Martin. These achingly beautiful poems demonstrate the ways that, as Dickinson puts it, ‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes.’” —Rae Armantrout “After centuries of poets and painters collaborating comes this very different and remarkable integration of artistic forces. Brian Teare placed his body and poems into the Agnes Martin grid for a holistic magic that, as he writes, ‘I couldn’t tell / until I held it’ and we feel all the unloved places of our world rise up with him. It is rare to bear such change with the poet. Do not pass by this book without grabbing it.” —CAConrad (from the publisher's website)


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In The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, Brian Teare explores paradox. Teachers are sought and rejected (the Buddha, Christian thinkers, an Abstract Expressionist painter); illness is at once personless violence and a means of perfection; the body, both physical and a nostalgic memory from the days before sickness. There is also heaven itself: something Agnes Martin’s In The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, Brian Teare explores paradox. Teachers are sought and rejected (the Buddha, Christian thinkers, an Abstract Expressionist painter); illness is at once personless violence and a means of perfection; the body, both physical and a nostalgic memory from the days before sickness. There is also heaven itself: something Agnes Martin’s Buddhist readings would insist is possible and current on earth, but a notion that the sufferer ruptures by existing. The space of the hospital—designed to be as utilitarian and perfect as graph paper, filled however with blood tests, nausea, vomiting, weeping—becomes a palpable hell. Teare’s title is in this way wishful thinking, a goal prayed for: perhaps the form of the body, emptied of the illness that entered it uninvited, can attain heaven, though altered by messy suffering. Indeed, the calmed body may be a new object entirely, as void as it is beautifully scarred by its new understanding: “form empties itself / on its way to heaven.” “Titled with Agnes Martin’s singularly flowing lines, these poems weave phrases from writers as rangy as Larry Eigner and Rosalind Krauss, Antonio Damasio and Maurice Blanchot together with an evolving examination of the immediate experience of illness and pain. In The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, a kind of stillness gradually builds through these carefully-shaped pieces, a distilled poise in which one comes to hear Agnes Martin as one simultaneously sees the Zen koan that the collection itself slowly, precisely forms.” —Cole Swensen “To live we must bring perception and proprioception into alignment; outer and inner must correspond. Disease threatens this correspondence. Teare, struggling with illness, searches for lost balance through an intense engagement with the painting of Agnes Martin. These achingly beautiful poems demonstrate the ways that, as Dickinson puts it, ‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes.’” —Rae Armantrout “After centuries of poets and painters collaborating comes this very different and remarkable integration of artistic forces. Brian Teare placed his body and poems into the Agnes Martin grid for a holistic magic that, as he writes, ‘I couldn’t tell / until I held it’ and we feel all the unloved places of our world rise up with him. It is rare to bear such change with the poet. Do not pass by this book without grabbing it.” —CAConrad (from the publisher's website)

30 review for The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Bensie

    This is a beautiful book. The poet uses his own illness and the paintings of Agnes Martin as his muse. A wonderful mix of gloom, joy, and magical thinking. Sometimes hollow, sometimes whole.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tristan

    The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven is a book that begs to be discussed--at least for me, who knows little to nothing about chronic illness and Agnes Martin (two of the most dominant themes through the text) and who thinks a lot about the implications of poetic form. This book is a massive (by which I mean 98 pages, but it feels bigger than that) unified sequence of poems centering on the experience of chronic illness and Teare's extended period of time considering the art of Abstract Expre The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven is a book that begs to be discussed--at least for me, who knows little to nothing about chronic illness and Agnes Martin (two of the most dominant themes through the text) and who thinks a lot about the implications of poetic form. This book is a massive (by which I mean 98 pages, but it feels bigger than that) unified sequence of poems centering on the experience of chronic illness and Teare's extended period of time considering the art of Abstract Expressionist (Minimalist?) American painter Agnes Martin, whose work was characterized by grids and lines, muted colors and intensely made regularity in the form of the paintings. They are composed mostly of squares and rectangles and, by all accounts, articulated meticulously. In his Preface to the book, Teare says, "Martin insisted that her paintings recorded her emotions", even as her work is described as "formal and even austere," and he says of this book that "Those who were compelled to visit Martin in New Mexico often felt that they did not wish to disappoint her by falling short of the ideals she and her art embodied with admirable and rigorous purity. Alone with her work for many years, I felt the same way until I didn't." This long engagement with Martin's work, Teare says was born out of a chronic illness and his engagement with her Writings, an assortment of essays about art and her process that he says combine "wisdom literature and advice to artists". The titles of each piece are taken from her Writings with the occasional poem titled after the media and dimensions of a particular artwork or a text on Martin's work. Teare's poems in The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven take these austerities and formalities of Martin's work (as I understand it) to heart. He is relentlessly careful and experimental with the arrangement of words on the page (something which Goodreads does not usually let me replicate and so I won't try--the arrangement being central to the experience of Teare's book). He introduces white space in the middle of lines, varying it to create the desired effect--tempting you to read the left-aligned portions and the right-aligned portions separately or to pause for no usual semantic or syntactic reason in the middle of an utterance, as if unable to speak through pain, or else to change the meaning of what is being said halfway through the sentence--like "watercolor, ink, and gouache on paper, nine and a quarter by nine and a quarter inches". Other poems are arranged so it is not clear whether to read them in horizontal lines or in two or three columns (and if so, what order in which to read said columns)--like "I lay down my gaze as one lays down one's weapons." Still others have blocks of text arranged like a clock face (do I read around from noon, do I read them left to right since they all have slightly different starting points, or top to bottom for the same reason, or do I ignore the blocks entirely?). Some of the poems even have nearly totally idiosyncratic formatting that tempts you to throw conventional reading to the wind and read almost at random/ignore his formatting entirely and take whatever incoherencies appear/try to read the words in multiple orders all at once--"Defeated, you will perhaps go a little bit further". I absolutely read a large number of the poems multiple times over trying out different reading orders and seeing how that affected the meaning of the poem--sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't, sometimes we got nonsense, sometimes it was illuminating. I have named as examples pieces that are in journals that are (hopefully) either online or have an online archive so that some form of the poem may be read and perhaps a glimpse of the formal shenanigans observed. The formal experiments brought a sense of rigidity and austerity to the text as well as bringing a sort of multiplicity to it--poems could mean more things since the words could be read in more orders and sometimes that forced claims up against each other in new and provocative ways. They also just forced the reader to take a little more time through the poems, which serves to encourage thought about them and at the form that forced that slowing down. Perhaps the slowing down and confusion is also part of the experience of chronic illness, I really wouldn't know. Please, if you read this book, talk to me about your thoughts on the formal stuff I would give a caveat about the book, which is it displays an interest in alternative medicine. Not something to be necessarily flung aside, but I was made uncomfortable (and not in what felt like a productive way) by Teare's speaker's extolling--sometimes and often in a qualified manner--of the virtues of acupuncture over conventional medicine. This might have been amplified by my experience of Teare himself at a reading where he implied some disdain for the idea of "cure" and seemed to consider conventional Western medicine almost as quackery that cannot help anyone (even if we accept that it failed to help him with the chronic illness depicted in the book). I could be wrong about that impression though. Teare's language is simultaneously dense, evocative, and deceptively simple. The words weren't notably long or difficult, nor (at least to me) was his syntax--except when it was complicated by formatting. The sound is beautiful--although hard to share given the formatting difficulties--and he makes good use of the relatively easy sentence structure to do that. I don't have a good theorization of how to use the titles of the poem and Agnes Martin's work, although I would very much appreciate being engaged in a conversation about it in the comments section on this review. Finally, I would usually list favorite poems, but I think here the poems were all about equally good individually and the book itself is where some of the most interesting work gets done, pulling us through chronic illness and mediation and meditation non-linearly and non-chronologically as we grow to understand something about Teare's speaker and his chronic illness (and how that interacts--poignantly--with his love life, although that is largely only touched on) and Agnes Martin and how all these things fit together into a beautiful experience of--it seems-- both deep meaning and a coming-to-terms with pain, meaninglessness, and the relationship between them.

  3. 4 out of 5

    secondwomn

    daring.

  4. 5 out of 5

    V

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nazareth

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rooze McKelvey

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andyinstant

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tanner

  10. 5 out of 5

    Fizza

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  12. 5 out of 5

    Max

  13. 4 out of 5

    O Zotique

  14. 5 out of 5

    Leah

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amy Pence

  16. 5 out of 5

    Larisa

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brett Barger

    The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven by Brian Teare is a collection of poetry recounting the author’s struggle with a life threatening disease. The collection references artwork by Agnes Martin- her work is very geometric, grids painted across color fields. When he references her work, he mentions it as a safe place, a home. That his mind functions as a grid- and the poetry reflects that. Each poem boasts a different shape on the page, many are grid-like. Due to this though each poem is a l The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven by Brian Teare is a collection of poetry recounting the author’s struggle with a life threatening disease. The collection references artwork by Agnes Martin- her work is very geometric, grids painted across color fields. When he references her work, he mentions it as a safe place, a home. That his mind functions as a grid- and the poetry reflects that. Each poem boasts a different shape on the page, many are grid-like. Due to this though each poem is a little difficult to read at first, but once you get into the groove of reading his work it is much easier to understand. His work is not supposed to be read left to right across and down the page, some of his work is split into columns, small rectangular configurations, or even some combinations of the two. Teare’s collection is a higher form of concrete poetry- it takes the shape of the author’s mind instead of the shape of the subject of the poem. Concrete poetry has been done before and has even become mainstream- Crank by Ellen Hopkins is a 500-page book told completely in concrete poetry. Teare also comments that the hospital is also based on a grid format, prescriptions, the hospital rooms, the hospital floors, and it is all reflected in the shape of the poems themselves. Teare utilizes the conventions of concrete poetry and utilizes them well, in “It is hard to realize at the time of helplessness that that is the time to be awake and aware.” Teare uses the space on the page to show his attitude toward his illness, across the pages the words either move up or down- like I state earlier, the poetry is concrete in the sense that it represents the author’s mind not necessarily the subject matter of sickness; in this way it is fresh and new, and the author is able to utilize concrete poetry in a way that I’ve never seen done so well. I read the book twice, first without the preface and the second time I started with it. I wanted to know if Teare’s work could be understood without reading the preface. The preface very much aids in the understanding of the book. Originally, I thought it was about a man with AIDS- but after reading the preface you see that it is about a gay man who is ill, however the illness is not named specifically. Teare’s narrator does not speak directly of his illness until the fifth poem into the work, prior to that he speaks of it in metaphor and in vague speaking around the subject. It slowly becomes more and more blatant that he is talking about illness, as the content says the he feels less ashamed that he is sick. The author’s use of vivid language and visual formatting aids in the understanding and the beauty of the work. One poem that stands out in this sense is “Somebody’s got to sit down and really want it.” This poem is written in two columns, and they contrast each other. The first column talks about his view on life as child- one where he believed he would be able to rise to the top and be unstoppable. The second column describes his challenges while being hospitalized. The two poems mirror each other; the shapes of each stanza are almost identical, which powerfully contrasts the two worldviews. This work is powerful, especially in a society where illness is so feared. Cancer, HIV/AIDS, and so many other life-altering diseases plague our people and change people’s outlooks on life- and many times, it isn’t all that positive. It shows a man’s journey to becoming, not well, but better. And that is what we need from an author- someone to say that it is okay to not be okay. All we can ask for is to feel a little bit better every single day.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Chang

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  21. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  23. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

  25. 4 out of 5

    Simeon Berry

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Parker

  27. 4 out of 5

    Louise Aronson

  28. 5 out of 5

    Delphine

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nw23

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kasey Jueds

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