Censory Impulse

Erica Kaufman’s poetry collection Censory Impulse opens with a stanza that reads, “first i think i need/to come to terms/with amputation.” Pregnant with possibility, this opening sets the perfect tone for what’s to follow: a series of meditations on loss and absence. Indeed, the idea of coming “to terms” with amputation and all that it implies is at the heart of this book, as struggling over terms—which is to say words—is much of what Kaufman does throughout the volume. Words, of course, carry meaning in this collection, but they also frequently and purposefully fail to do so. They are, in a way, amputated or cut off or at least distanced from immediate meaning, as when the poet writes, “past sorrow ripening allegro/often easy to learn on a door/the scaleability appealing/in my own jaundiced way.” Individually, the words have meaning, but in context, they struggle against each other until meaning is, apparently, eviscerated, thus forcing the reader to meditate further both on their relationship to each other and the ways in which language itself works: words fail, at times, but in their failure, we create and discover new meaning. And in the absence of meaning, in the failure of words, in the disjuncture between the terms we use and what they pretend to mean, we struggle to find new language and new modes of expression. In Kaufman’s words, “i don’t stand/for vocabulary only.” And neither should we, if this challenging yet engaging collection is to be believed.

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