This debut collection by David Greenspan slowly but surely brings into view something — though one cannot say exactly what, at first — about the self and the I and the mind and the body, tropes as old as time.
The collection begins in a place of naive interrogation, a Shakespearan longing for questions impossible to answer, questions of fate. In the opening “Poem for a god of my own understanding,” the speaker asks, “can you tell me / why I was born / several hundred miles from / any ocean” craftfully setting the tone for the rest of the collection — the paradoxical divide between questions of the soul and questions of circumstance. But these beautiful moments can slip past the reader if one gets caught up in the calamity of Greenspan’s textures and smells: the decay of pockmarks, the glistening of needles, the rot of hardboiled eggs.
In this way One Person Holds So Much Silence functions as a sort of field recorder for experience, the processes through which we encounter nature and ourselves. And a big question in the book is that divide between the outside world and the body, or as Greenspan writes, “subject and object, internal and external.”
The collection splits the poems into three sections, each with its own variety of worries and textures and philosophical viewpoints. Throughout the book Greenspan speaks through personae from different socioeconomic backgrounds and stages of grief, different levels of drug addiction and therefore states of mind. There are quite a few references to drug use and drug addiction in the book — speakers caught in the fallacy of escape from themselves, from this world, from pain. There’s a constant feeling that the body and the mind aren’t the same, and if there is a mind, what does that mean for the body? The result is a collection extremely interested in the body and mind and how it can both constrict and expand experience itself.
The stakes are high and Greenspan keeps raising them. While the majority of the book features tight, enjambed lines like blood surging through veins, Greenspan diverges onto new paths that lead to strange forms. Probably the most bizarre is in “Where are the worms in my mouth brother in your mouth,” which begins as a traditional question-and-answer interview, but soon devolves into ethereal musings that float about in the margins of the book, the line between question and answer blurred. Similarly, nothing can ever be summarized — the classic postmodern condition — which Greenspan explores through poems that begin “An incomplete history of.”
But it’s not all serious, of course; in “Poem for Florida” we have what appears to be a literary first: a poem from the perspective of a fruit, maybe a mass or collective hive mind of orange, maybe even lemons: “I find myself citrus pitched / and pulped in a gas station […] I’ve built something / closely resembling a life / of lemon bright distraction.” So again it asks a poetic question of how consciousness works, whether we are one or we are many, whether you shape your environment or it you.
In an interview at the end of the book Greenspan continues his poetry’s ambivalence: “The world is a pretty horrible place. It’s also all we have. People can be pretty horrible. They can also be kind and generous and encouraging.” So for Greenspan poetry is the thing that is never enough to capture the confounding conditions of life, but it’s also the thing that makes it easier.