Nonfiction writer John McPhee devises a graphic symbol to represent the structure of every piece he writes — a doodle with arrows, a nautilus set against the axes of time and place. When I read Aaron Coleman’s poems, I want to draw their forms: intricate, precise, relentless, necessary. I would use carmine, charcoal, clay slip, and gilt to convey his attention to bodies broken and burned, to places of refuge and dream, and to the sparkle and shock of language itself. The fractal, corkscrewing stanzas of “St. Who” enact on the page the “sequence scythed, illumined” of the poem’s moonlit vision.
Since reading St. Trigger, his award-winning chapbook, I have hungered for more of Coleman’s voice. Threat Come Close, his first full collection, will be released next month by Four Way books. I know of no poet writing today who uses sprung rhythm and intentional repetition with the surety and delight that Coleman displays. “Faith, let me be rootless, fluent / as pain and change-slick water”; “impatient / in this body, this brink, scheme, see.”
I feel sure that Hopkins himself, somewhere, is wowed, not only by Coleman’s verbal gifts, but also — and more importantly — by the ethical purpose that anchors this poet’s project. In “Very Many Hands,” the prefatory poem of the new book, Coleman writes, “I am made of what I am afraid to remember.” Fear does not stop Coleman. Emerging from “a heavy chrysalis / of will, a cataract,” the poet writes his way as best he can into the long history and continuing perpetration of white violence on black bodies. By means of these rapturous poems, the poet may “Commit to memory the quieted / hate, what punctures the enveloped body.” With extraordinary compassion, Coleman welcomes his reader into this impossible process.