Brenda Coultas

Winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2004

An Early Alphabet

Puritans, Hillbillies, Yankees, Iroquois, Confederates, and Krauts  
      —that's who
made me.

Put in a bird, any bird, even an ugly one, a crow for example
or mention bird anatomy
a wing or feather give it a color
put in a bird, make it fly, let it eat
build a nest
add any bird.

Mention a bird skeleton so delicate and light it flies
mention an egg
mention a bird song
mention a bird's cry
mention a raven's beak boiled
please mention the hair black as the raven's wing I carry in my

A flock of turkey buzzards, their heads are all red comb, and the bodies. The ugliest birds I'd ever seen. All my life I'd seen them in the sky, circling. Never on the ground. I was 38.

I learned to write so I could describe the world
The birdhouse is empty
say something beautiful about it.

Lyn Hejinian on Brenda Coultas

For her remarkable A Handmade Museum, the poet-phenomenologist Brenda Coultas performs the role of curator, searching out and then presenting a display of places—a display of forms that time takes. In this sense, the publisher's characterization of the poems as "sculptures" is apt; this is indeed a book of occurrences. As such, it is also a book of encounters. Though the project—and Coultas's work is markedly project-oriented— has an archeological quality, the results are sudden, immediate, and oddly revelatory. The processes reveal poignant formations whose tranquility remains unaffected by any discovery of them.

There are literary precedents for A Handmade Museum; one could point to the writings of Thoreau, the Wordsworths (Dorothy as well as William), Robert Smithson, Bernadette Mayer, and Juliana Spahr, for example. But, in fact, this is an utterly unusual book—it is "a first book" in a profound, originating sense. As poet-phenomenologist, public-broadcaster, nocturnal-haymaker, Brenda Coultas finds the world strewn with love objects; that they can also be termed debris means only that what time has of the world to offer is limitless. We should follow Coultas and keep track of it.

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