The Order of Importance: The Last 4 Things by Kate Greenstreet
Reviewed by Sophie Sills
Kate Greenstreet’s The Last 4 Things is an insight into things near and far, with a camera serving in place of the narrative arc, the means by which the range of vision is captured. “Every contact leaves a trace” and Greenstreet’s apprehension of the nature of seeing extols us to find fruitful recognition in the bridge between object and distance. “Dear within, I was seeing from a distance.” In this, the interval from within two points of recognition becomes a vehicle for understanding memory, transfixing human faces with a fire, a scorching summer, and people who’ve come down from the fields. An opening is created between what is and what seems to be.
We were in the fields,
cutting the corn.
We ran through the village,
we thought there was a fire.
That was a hot summer
when the war was over.
This is no dream, but a vivid illustration of the roaring voracity of continuing focus between closeness and distance, seeking by seeing and feeling. Her depictions are quotidian moments, scenes of the living, the ones invited to life. Like the depiction of a fire, her imagery has a tendency to give representation and distance a pictorial quality. Greenstreet’s cognizance and perception of experience, as distinct as photographic images, goes beyond the materiality of things to remark that we “…can never see what things are made of.” What this suggests is that in speaking of recognition, she speaks of things and perspectives becoming abstract. In accepting an image there is no knowledge beyond that image. The writing intimates a familiarity, a secret, “To speak of method. Empathy.” Her method accomplishes unity, writing as an intellectual identification with the natural world. This compulsion for documentation unlocks the lens, “The camera must be open.”
Biblical metaphors and spiritual elements are rife in Greenstreet’s poetry, “And he’s walking—/ right into his shadow./ Arms extended, open as a field.” This passage suggests a Jesus like figure appearing in every day life. The title itself alludes to the Last 4 Things in Catholicism: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. But in Greenstreet’s book, faith seems to be a memory of something once learned and forgotten, serving as contributor to our understanding, “What is faith but a picture we carry, where the memories of everyone are stored. A stair is missing. Let us know our end.” A stair, such steps collectively, lead the reader disappearing, spiritually, from this world to another. Woven throughout the book are italicized lines, as though channeling an alternate possibility, “_I have had a Letter from another World…_”(p. 5) “Something between us and the world.” What this possibility suggests is that ambiguity dissolves the picture, things blur, coming in and out of focus.
Also prevalent are images of death, “I have a lace veil on, and so does B, but we are not the bride.” Death is portrayed not as destruction, but as an occasion, continuity from one realm of the natural world to another. Greenstreet writes, “Sometimes there’s a word that can’t be used. Dormant, inherent, instinctive, involuntary”; such is death. Greenstreet measures nature in a concrete sense, “_As always with speech, one is blind._” articulating the ineffability and grace of a sort of empty inside of language. This, again, is the space between two objects or persons. “The lie a camera tells about that moment is a better reminder than the memory of the moment could have been.” A nostalgia haunts these pages, entering through the body of material, “Incident, occurrence, happening, chance: the medium of our progress.” Her poetry is an instrument bringing us to the edge of darkness, compelling us to examine the path to vision, “Things are right in front of us, he says. ‘Why make them up?‘” Her observation is persistent and luminous. In an interview with Bookslut, Greenstreet states, “It’s something about looking out and looking in. In The Last 4 Things, it seems to me that you’re getting to look in at a consciousness.”
What is revealed at the heart of an action or event? “One begins with so little—collecting, sweeping. Or seeing it, just seeing.” These small actions are the fractions for assemblage. Greenstreet examines the ruptures in apparition in physical terms, making them all the more moving, “There’s a hole in the middle of life (the body).” She uses the very materiality of events and environment to create several working stories throughout The Last 4 Things. Like the role the camera serves in these poems, the writing asks us to distinguish beyond our own vision, to bear witness, commemorate daily life. She writes, “The camera has two purposes: one is to help the person holding it to see. The other, simply to draw light into itself.”
The Last 4 Things by Kate Greenstreet