Conversations Across Time
a review of Samuel Ace's Our Weather Our Sea
Samuel Ace’s new poetry collection, Our Weather Our Sea, inhabits the physicality of the body, landscapes, and daily life with musicality and compassion. This collection at once converses with the past, inhabits the present, and sings to the future.
Our Weather Our Sea is joined by the republication of Ace’s first two books in one volume, Normal Sex and Home in three days. Don’t wash., originally published in 1994 and 1996, respectively. Echoes of these earlier poems fill Our Weather Our Sea as Ace revisits familiar images in a new light and expands upon earlier forms.
The 2019 release of Meet Me There: Normal Sex & Home in three days. Don’t wash. is attributed to both Samuel Ace and Linda Smukler—Ace’s birth name. In a new introduction, Ace writes a series of letters between “Sam” and “Linda” in which his past and present selves converse. In “Dear Linda,” Ace writes, “Dear friend who is me and no longer me, dear love who I have never left behind, dear gorgeous Linda, in all that your name implies, let me say again that I love you.” This compassion for his past and the “writing [that] helped bring me into being” imbues Ace’s writing in the present. While he contends with the fixity of his former work (“Unlike actual people and relationships, these portraits do not evolve”), Ace’s new poems pay homage to the past and usher us into a new world.
If uncertainty is our only constant, it follows that embracing life’s “infinite slide” is perhaps the best way forward. With this outlook, Ace celebrates connection and the promise of change...
Our Weather Our Sea opens with the poem “An Ocean-Like Hush,” which precedes three longer sections: “I Met a Man,” “His Letters Were Not Loss,” and “These Nights.” Like much of Ace’s early work, “An Ocean-Like Hush” takes the form of a prose poem, broken into paragraphs with minimal punctuation. Instead of line breaks, Ace fills the poem with spaces. These gaps push the lines forward, persistent yet serene. Amid this cadence, nature and bodies entwine: “I wonder about his smell his black and white lips the ocean’s hush as if the distant salt of skin will heal me.” The pairing of ocean and salt with lips and skin creates a sensory space in which the everyday is born anew.
Later in the poem, Ace writes: “I find you in the winds your legs covered in fur I find the felt slippers that hold the shape of your feet I find your red beard and the darker hairs on your chest I find you in an arm a northern gulf to a southern gulf I find you speaking in sheets.” Like the gaps throughout the poems, anaphora serves to shape the collection’s sonic momentum. The rhythm builds quietly, forging commonplace slippers and sheets into a geography of the body.
In “I Met a Man,” Ace begins to expand the form of his prose poems, placing individual paragraphs on each page. While the poems in this section retain their forward tempo, when read in succession they hover, for a moment untethered. One page holds only a single line: “(10 years without a name an ordinary life).”
While sparser and less narrative-driven than his earlier work, identity remains central to Ace’s verse. He describes identity as a river, subject to continual change: “the infinite slide through the river of identitude a boat he did not want to sink.” His physical form is similarly subject to change: “So it shifts and shifts again this mortal body of renewal and disintegration.” Yet Ace embraces this change. “I beg you to stay unformed to consider entropy on a permanent basis,” he writes early in the collection. If uncertainty is our only constant, it follows that embracing life’s “infinite slide” is perhaps the best way forward. With this outlook, Ace celebrates connection and the promise of change: “I found you sitting next to me I heard you in yellow a singing future.”
In the collection’s longest section, “His Letters Were Not Loss,” Ace reinvents his prose form. The titles anchor each poem in time: “November 23rd 4:51:33 PM,” for example. Beneath, visually dense paragraphs give way to slim columns of text. Several of these columns not only expand the paragraph that precedes them in their form, but expand upon their rhythms and images as well.
In “December 21st 11:20:45 PM,” Ace uses this new form to explore his earlier work. Several of the poems in Normal Sex describe sexual abuse, narrated by a version of Ace as a young child. To escape, the narrator imagines a fantasy world in which he becomes Timmy, accompanying his dog, Lassie, on adventures. In “Shower,” Ace writes: “he is not a boy he is my father boys are on TV a boy is a friend of Lassie and rescues things boys are me smooth like me.” Upon reflecting on his early work in “Dear Sam,” Ace offers some context for his childhood love of Lassie: “born nearly blind in one eye,” he was taught to use both eyes together by watching Lassie on a TV with a “special screen,” “But the images would rarely fuse.”
Ace returns to Lassie in “December 21st 11:20:45 PM”: “I / finally made it through the prisms I / was trained to see at 3 the pictures / of Lassie shaking in black and white.” The openness to change and uncertainty that fills Our Weather Our Sea is coupled with a gift of sight. “I have looked / through prisms / I have seen / the borders,” Ace writes with wise assurance.
By the final section, “These Nights,” Ace comes full circle and returns to the prose poem form that opens the collection. In “This is All that Remains of the Ghost,” nature, bodies, and repeated sounds again coalesce: “This is all that remains of the ghost it’s my father who is dead I need more of his leg his arm his earth more of his moss his clouds his rain.” Several of the poems in this section take on a darker tenor, more resistant to change than their predecessors. Death, after all, is the only certainty in an uncertain world. Ace retains the compassion that fills this collection, the deep desire to connect with others and with ourselves across time. Though his previous writing may be fixed, Our Weather Our Sea enables us to hold past, present, and future in our vision all at once.