The Orchard Green and Other Colors is Zach Savich’s fifth poetry collection and a marked departure from the ones it follows. The shift comes in Savich moving from examining representation to “simple” presentation. Unlike much poetry, designed to direct, prolong, or estrange perception, The Orchard Green mimics the cursory ways in which we see the world. This isn’t done via a return to conventional realism, but rather by enacting that perception.
These poems are a collection of glances. What is most salient is the direct attention Savich gives to his subjects. For example, Savich closes the poem “Perhaps Birds,” with the following:
[a] neighbor rakes his stoop d
some kids have spray-painted a fetus d
onto a mailbox d
small slanders of snow d
geese jolt from the open back of billboards d
if you can ask in a glance d
the mind zagging in a bramble of iron filings d
seized tender behind the brow d
In The Orchard Green, Savich uses the glance as a compositional element.
The poems are mostly comprised of four unpunctuated stanzas of long single lines or couplets, making them mimetic of an empty musical stave. In “My Summer Hospital,” the long poem that opens the book, Savich writes, “Wind where the chimes will be//Beautiful in a passing way/Thus, more beautiful the more it passes me//Much as those birds that never touch the ground.” Provision, transience, and frailty are woven into these poems, which move like boats over the surface of their subjects.
In The Orchard Green, poems develop spatially. “I write you from a peripheral grown large enough/ To rest in or turn around,” says Savich in “Also and Always.” He continues:
Tell me with a look
The tires will go flat and there is a restaurant called Open
Much as one practicing an instrument
Inadvertently comes into song and stays there
But also: here is a late love poem, in the style of this fire escape they painted through the best they could, so yellow slashes the siding. Chestnuts you can break by hand, against other chestnuts in your hand.
On the hazed lawn one tosses leaves saved or found unbrowned beneath some fallen thing. A minor, mythic re-enactment of fall I’d nevertheless call beautiful, as the sadly elaborate texturing of a hall can make plain notes, briefly, orchestral.
And another thing: the first globes were clay orbs. Sailors affixed new continents by thumbing a percent of a sphere’s core out and pressing a lobe of land, or pinched mountain, or antelope.
Now past this field where they rest anything until there’s enough and auction it.
Ladders lean out second-level windows. Day passing out. Leaflets.
The smallest strip beside the house: a garden.
If these poems are empty musical staves, they are also fields receding into their own horizons. This is not to say that The Orchard Green lacks moments of lyric insight and depth, but those statements come off as parentheticals (sometimes literally). Savich prefers to tell us with a look, rather than with a voice over.
Also notable is the way Savich works against measure and equivocation. In The Orchard Green everything is equal only to itself. In “Cactus on a Metal Stair,” he writes:
Low bees alert in the first cold
The leaves that turn first last longest
Near a barbed wired fence
With the fence part gone
You can just walk under
Dry vines on the wire
A question is saying yes
Or to measure the distance
By a mossed tennis
Ball on the path
There are no metaphors, no similes either present or implied. The bees are bees. The fences have no posts; the barbed wire lies slack. Systems of demarcation have broken down. To figure out how long the path is, look at the molding tennis ball at your feet. The objects in Savich’s poems are things “[t]oo small to be displaced.”
These “things” are not objective correlatives, but simply objects, complete in their separation from us. Savich ends his poem “A House Called Fire,” with the following:
I rest in the shade from leaves the window lets in d
under clouds the color of clouds birds have been in d
darker in the morning and at dusk d
Stranger to the touch d
anything seen d
being outside the body d
is plainly ecstasy d
Savich is trying to approach objects as discrete entities, not as halved or doubled via consciousness or representation. It’s the objects we create though imagination or depiction which are incomplete. The “ecstasy” of Savich’s poem is our experience of the exterior object’s wholeness, something we as citizens of symbolic orders which predicate us, struggle to experience fully. As such, even the molding tennis ball on the path is something consecrated.
These poems seek presence. Savich creates a kind of being for the objects he describes. The images are not cathected with Savich’s displaced feelings. They simply exist. In one section of “My Summer Hospital,” he writes:
There’s little evidence of the bee’s contact with the blossom
Outside the blossom
By alternating crops, you make toil easy
Cardinal in some stacked panes, or in each of them
In my time travel dream, we agree to visit the present
The final line of this section could be seen as a kind of thesis. Similarly, in “Exit Centrifuge,” he writes, “I look for the source of the echo.” Savich collapses the moment and its passing.
Artist Christian Marclay has a twenty-four hour video installation called The Clock. The film is pieced together from movies and television shows where the time is conveyed explicitly in the dialogue or shown another way by, say, having a clock somewhere in frame. The film is “set” to the local time and plays real time. I saw about three hours of it when it was exhibited at the Wexner Center in Columbus a few years ago. It’s oddly engaging. You are experiencing time pass, but as an object in front of you, like watching time-lapse footage of fruit molding. The Orchard Green gave me a similar feeling with presence. It’s a rare book that can make you aware in this way.