First Impressions of Sarah Lindsay’s Mount Clutter

It seems that Sarah Lindsay has a sure grip of poetry. Some first impressions:

History, Science, and a dogged Humanity come together in Lindsay’s poems. The first section examines particularly the inability to know anything for sure, despite our deepest efforts. One of the best examples is “House of Sand” (20)[1], which places humanity literally within an hourglass, trying to figure out how the “dimple / forming in the center of the floor” (2-3)[2] acts in the specifics. As within our real universe, the protagonists antagonists scientists are trying to measure a system while being enmeshed within that same system. The movement of perspective from within an hourglass to the real world is accomplished with subtlety and grace, and the reader might only notice it finally with “The Sahara’s crawling dunes” (21). This movement, and the recognition of limitation or inability to escape or achieve outside perspective are important elements to my thesis.

In the eponymous poem, “Mount Clutter” (4-5), Lindsay treats Earth as an aging mother, “long since run out of places to put things–” (5). She opens with “the planet… / pressing stegosaurs in her scrapbook” (1-2), but by the end of the first stanza, has the reader regarding his or her own grandmother, looking for the note she misplaced. As in “House of Sand”, Lindsay’s point of view shift quickly has the reader recognizing parallels between geologic processes and human behavior, and she manages the shift without alarming the reader or throwing her out of the poem.

Lindsay focuses on epoch-sized biological and geological processes, but manages the poems’ perspectives so the reader seizes upon the human within them. It’s like she uses the processes to get at the human rather than reversed, but still offers the unveiling of the science involved.

At some points, Lindsay seems to criticize scientific understanding and process to the point of it being seemingly anti-science. One example from “Mount Clutter”:

What if you don’t find
the Missing Link, the Conclusive Proof
of that cherished hypothesis you cooked up
along with the instant soup on your hot plate
amid the books and shirts and notes and dishes? (37-41)

This is not exactly complimentary of the scientist. Indeed, as in “House of Sand”, Lindsay portrays the human failing of perspective, of the inability to see the system from outside our minds.

As far as the craft goes, I’ll direct you to the music techniques in the quote above, and will say this until I have a more-in-depth reading: There are few extraneous words in her poems, and few things I see that should change. As poems should be, they are necessary in their existence. Finally, Lindsay must be one of the masters of point-of-view shift or perspective shift, whichever you might prefer to call it.

[1] Poems are cited by page numbers, while

[2] Lines are cited by line numbers.

Works Cited

Lindsay, Sarah. Mount Clutter. New York: Grove Press, 2002. Print.

Some Interviews and Related Posts

Poet Sarah Lindsay at Complete Word
Interviewed at Guernica
A Review of Twigs and Knucklebones at Smartish Pace
A Bio and List of Online Poems at Poetry International
Another Review of Twigs and Knucklebones, this time at Poetry

2 Replies to “First Impressions of Sarah Lindsay’s Mount Clutter”

  1. This collection is ten years old at this point, but I’m excited about getting her newer book Twigs and Knucklebones, which came out in 2008. I’m still reading through Mount Clutter, and will post a more thorough reflection once I’m done.
    Thanks for reading!

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