Zine Review: After Swann


Chapbook, Marthe Reed, above/ground press, abovegroundpress.blogspot.com, $4

The words and phrases that constitute this series of poems were culled and collaged from Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time series of novels. Repurposing text from what Encyclopedia Britannica describes as “one of the supreme achievements of modern fiction,” is never a bad way to start a poetry collection. The way Marthe Reed — New York resident and chapbook publisher — uses that text, however, may appear peculiar at first glance. She makes no attempt to vary the style of the verse she presents in After Swann; each entry consists of 10–12 three-line stanzas, and lines rarely go on for more than four words. These restrictions are more an indication of a singular vision, than a lack of creativity; she refers to her verse as “constraint-driven poetry”— a style in which the author voluntarily applies limitations or rules, in an effort to spark inspiration. As a result of the succinct nature of Reed’s lines, the segments of an individual poem never completely coalesce into a definable event. From time to time, you’re awarded a brief flash of comprehension. A vague scene forms, then quickly fades into the next: “she suggested / my dress wasn’t ready / some excuse // charming /she would jump in / and hold him in her  arms.” After Swann, in this way, pays homage to a crucial element of Proust’s Swann’s Way: involuntary memory —when a particular cue evokes an unexpected recollection of a past event. A decent chunk of this, thematically, appears to deal with femininity and the tribulations and desires at play in the lives of women, 100 (or more) years ago. Those who’ve read Swann’s Way will likely see more substance in this than those who haven’t. (Scott Bryson)