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Quarantine :: Contagion

by Brian Henry

Part of our Arc International Poets series

Narrated by a man dying of the plague, Quarantine is a book-length poem that explores sexuality and subjectivity as well as the viability of narrative itself. Lying in a field beside his dead wife and son, the narrator describes the events leading up to his and his family's death.

The poem is ostensibly set outside London in 1665, during the bubonic plague, but the motives of the narrator eventually cast doubt onto his story, as does the fact that plague victims often become delirious and may lapse into a coma before death. His story accumulates via accretion and contradiction, complicating his attempts truthfully to describe his life. To counter-act the narrator's hold on the story, ten passages, written in the third person, are interspersed, providing an objective vantage point. After the narrator finishes his story, Quarantine undoes itself in Contagion, which mirrors 'distortedly, and in reverse' the narrative.

Brian Henry's new book needs to be experienced as a whole. Opening it at random and sampling a few pages might give the reader a sense of the book's tone... as well as its preliminary situation (dying of the plague, a man wonders back on his life, its disturbances and violations). But a partial reading could not fully appreciate the book's most pivotal fact: how the narrative ground of the 40 "Quarantine" poems is overturned by a completely different principle of composition in the series of 40 'mirroring' poems entitled "Contagion". ... In the moment between the closure of the narrative portion and the opening of the cryptic appendix, a profound change has occurred: the fragments now examined appear to be the exhumed 'remains', the mysterious petrifaction, of lines just previously encountered in the first section....This is the exquisitely executed impact of Quarantine: :Contagion's concept... one experiences composition and decomposition as central to writing's paradox: the life... and death... of the writer.

Zack Finch, Boston Review

In this ghostly, dead man's series, a stark world of violence and disease arises like a reworking of Bergman's The Seventh Seal. [Henry's] language is robed in history's strange temporality, running back and forth, hitting the present again and again. Yet, curiously, it is a book without time or place — the river is any river, the plague is any plague , and the time clearly could be now.

Eleni Sikelianos

ISBN: 978-1904614-73-9 (pbk), 978-1906570-13-2 (hbk)
Dimensions: 138 x 216
Pages: 80
Published November 2009

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