Laynie Browne's Drawing of a Swan Before Memory

Robert Mittenthal

L. Browne, Drawing of a Swan Before Memory, University of Georgia Press, 2005, Athens (winner of the Contemporary Poetry Series Competition)

But before memory, an image has no awareness of itself as image. Before memory, a drawing of a swan is lost in its own blindness. The ambitious project L. Browne pursues here is to trace this innocence, this pure voice, as it unfolds, as it betrays its blindness and becomes experience.

To own nothing is the beginning of happiness. -Diogenes

And this forming out - is the trace described. The dodge is in the driveway. Strangely backlit. A milky refraction that follows the ship, its contrail suspended in the eye - a stream holding steady as if flaunting its magnificent duration. " Water is the nectar which forms the dark light of the sun."

Laynie Browne's portrait of the acquisition of language is both an inscription of love and a description of arrival. It reveals a great divide between forming and having, embracing formation in loving detail.

A description of emergence : " His unset eyes - containing water - become expression..." A perception that experience does " comb the onlooker away from the child, when the child includes changing eyes in every picture..."

A question of " bridges between thought..." A drawing or an image to embrace - as if written in the dark - reading images within - or internally misplaced. A combination and then another. A return which is the light of memory - touching water.

A dream of a private conversation - where " the present is perpetually broken..."

To move with science - it is consciousness - holds my pencil. Each sound reading itself last. Until a form of agreement holds you.

I want to argue that this is an affirmative poetics. That is, it says " yes" to what arrives through the senses, but without agreement, without accepting what arrives as one's own. It is in description that the work and the world come into relation, words emerging from a hand, scratching a path out onto a page.

This work pumps up the unconscious - which is the store of our potential. A potential that waits unformed - until taken up, virtually at least, and actualized - where it can be safely lost. Forgotten in the wake. Or visible there, glimmering in the soft reflection of the sound, a milky contrail.

There's a word that captures various facets at play in this work: minnesinger - from the Greek minne, or love, orig. memory (akin to English mind).

Description of friendship in a form that is called love. An event occurs outside the script. But the description occurs in time - it becomes a " portrait of not an object but a transference."

If sound is the unanalytic model of sense. It " includes experience which is remembered..." The noise of water in the pipes. But instantiated " this" was not a type of borrowed cloak ... " No bridges between thought replace light."

L. Browne's art realizes the temporality of the nightmare. Of the swan - an elongated path thru a life that slowly opens. One would expect writing thru forgetting. Prerequisite for memory, Proust and proper names.

When time derails... memory attaches to a body, assaulting it until it agrees (momentarily). Finally possessed, an insistence or affirmation (" good choice") that separation heightens. " Pictures broken at odd angles which he carries close to his chest, running."

Possessed only to be abandoned, the moment is selfless but holds to a form or to a number. The natural world is at hand - transformed in description. A transfer adjacent and then upon - yields to what's within - and merged, it grows into or down among us.


An almost pristine science. A brush for each color. Purity is a dream afloat unfolding at the borders of thought. Its images are rinsed in the river. A celebration of the difference between touch and immersion.

" He passes thru color - setting each resonance for light." Seeing becomes a gesture, a flash of light in his face. A series of marks on a page. The bridge mirrors itself " towards a resembling image."

To embrace the drawing is to agree - a replacement is that bridge across. " He remembers first pretend is not forgotten..."

Who spoke thus? " The child did not know he had a memory." Under the eye a vampire - the phantom motion of a sole proprietor. She devours it - objecting to the thread. Is no one home? The painting is there to tell them again. Standing before an idol identifies us - or did. Knighted scepter dispelled - in his wake. It flows or desires motion. A formation scratched into skin. Needles of light. An image flavored with erotic purpose - but commerce claws its wake. A stink pot in an otherwise calm body of water. A hand seems to float breaking the sun.

A thrilling description of the unconscious - which fresh senses produce, that is, an emergence of agency most proximate, yet thrillingly apart.

A tout in words - slowly adrift. Looking to relate, the positive power forgets. A person. The color of the cat. Unbooked, this is the most common embrace shared from within. A discharge adjacent to water. Its oblong fold lighted from within.


Poems have 'meaning' in that they do 'exist through themselves.' I have no idea where they come from, but I have felt them most evident when least assumed. -R. Creeley

If Creeley had a constraint, it was to be present, without wax. Like Creeley, LB attends to what arrives. Working to allow the poems to exist through themselves.

Full of signals a path is beaten. That is, the path is full of signals - moments distinct (until beaten). White caps piercing the green. Nettles lost in the emerging line. Distinct once or unbeaten by defeat, we are the intersect - lost in presumed communion. The swallow whose gravity awaits. A circus gull performs its gathers, to net abundance - into some sort of beeline.

A 'white' dreambook becomes a story. Alice opens her eyes. The mood a flavor or blankness, growing both bigger and smaller simultaneously. That is still cold but instructive.

"I've no weight at all. I walk the stalks of the roses and ripen distinctly into hours whose dimensions are unknown. All words turn to their invisible partners, gesture..."

A bird hands out of time. A mobility measured in years. Alarm is a season so young. The trees sway and reach up to the moist parts alive in the mouth.