“I’ve tuned the piano so a certain chord // is always nearly happening” writes Zach Savich in the first of nine numbered sections of his fourth full-length collection Century Swept Brutal, setting the tone for each of the book’s 105 pages. In a sense, Century Swept Brutal dares the reader to choose what it is: a single poem or a poem in parts. These questions persist even at the cellular level – throughout the collection, small groups of lines open up, fleetingly, like hints of a parallel universe of alternative physics and indeterminate narratives(“I assume the sun releases minerals at depths its heat does not consider”; “She said during the revolution portraits burned faster.”) When these crystalline constructions are working at their best, they break the narrative elements into points of inflection and reflection, capturing a haiku-like sense of arrival and surprise:
Then one day
you see a street you know
in a novel.
The delight in discovery and change (“If you turn your head / the sky is / changed”) is ever-present in Century, and its consistent reoccurrence is, in turn, one of the collection’s chief delights. As the data accrues, the book calls into question whether fact as we think of it (objective, falsifiable) even exists—the authority of Savich’s assertions suggest that fact may be as much a matter of tone as it is of truth, whether the assertions are scientifically accurate (“The human eye / achieves its eventual / mass / by age seven”) or speculative:
Having catalogued many things I am not surprised to see
the bird that each morning wakes me will one morning
lead me into death, it is startlingly ordinary that there
should not be separate angels but these two notes coming
to mean any message in turn, as apples heating into a shape
or a horse.
Century Swept Brutal encourages binge-reading and the kind of immersion that allows a reader to craft his or her own through-lines and stories from its shifting parts. Absent this cooperative element—Savich’s casual authority combined with the reader’s drive to coherence—the poems’ abundant charisma risks devolving into occasional feyness. Still, if that’s a risk inherent in embracing delight, it proves worth taking. Our century certainly seems brutal (though perhaps all centuries are, in the end), flush with hurricanes and tsunamis, political and religious extremism and unrest, and hemorrhagic fevers that defy quarantine. Savich nonetheless finds a way to embrace both reflection and its discoveries, a poetry that documents a “life moving / mostly in pauses.”