120.7: Randall Horton:: To See the Earth Before the End of The World 120

To See the Earth Before the End of The World


Throughout his writing career, Ed Roberson has remained committed to the deconstruction of dominant linguistic/poetical practices for the sake of language and the ever-forming body it encompasses. When I speak of the [body] I am referring to that collective which operates through what Kant would term “phenomena.” I first became aware of Roberson through his book City Eclogue, which was commissioned by Atelos, whose main mission is to publish “writing which challenges the conventional definitions of poetry, since such definitions have tended to isolate poetry from intellectual life, arrest its development, and curtail its impact.” The book seemed to be a collision of language in collision with itself. The multiplicity within one poem impressed me so much that I went back to his first book, When Thy Boy is a King, and then traced his writing trajectory. In that first book, he writes: “To dream is not to dream if waking up is never finished.” This is the feeling I get when I come out of an Ed Roberson poetry collection. I never finish waking up inside of Roberson’s poetics.

With that said, To See the Earth Before the End of The World could be considered Roberson’s magnum opus, a masterful practice in the pursuit of aesthetic freedom. Perhaps my favorite section of the book, “Chromatic Sequences,” offers a complex look at history, the fallacy of skin color, and the social construction in a language that always seems to be in state of becoming. Consider Section i:

The colors of light
arrived as a time of day
sat in the whites only.                Formal or not

the torch of film caught up with changes and American
color           photography was invented with blood.
everything turned golden brown done        in a low sun. The cities burnt.

Roberson uses photography and the idea of manmade images that get up caught in the silent frame, the shutter. The poems fill in the silence or erase the erasure as Roberson has said on numerousness occasions. The dexterity of language and double jointed meanings offer the reader an experience rather than a simple reading. In this book there is a language that keeps on giving long past the exit of the poem.

I would call Roberson’s work controlled distraction capable of stepping outside that control to chaos language into exposing itself as flawed. What remains pleasurable in this book is the one-on-one relationship with words, with language. He asks the reader to do a little work while he is investigating the idea of human/humanity. Further along in the sequence, Roberson critiques the human race in “What The Tree Took, on the Table” as he writes:

we don’t get away
we don’t get off         race
though we know genetically does not exist

does not erase but is
enacted as our history in us is enacted as
American        the tree

While this section draws on history and that which defines humans (for good or bad), whatever the subject or non-subject matter Roberson addresses in To See the Earth Before the End of The World becomes a multiplicity of myriad meanings, each connotation building on an idea that crumbles into another idea. Roberson is always at the edge of the world—always seeing.

Ed Roberson:: To See the Earth Before the End of the World:: Wesleyan University Press