Rebecca Norris Webb’s Favorite Book from 2019

Slant by Aaron Schuman.   Published by Mack.

During such trying political times, one of my anchors is a dog-eared volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry on my bedside table. How did she manage to produce so many of her most memorable poems during the Civil War? How does her work somehow embody the essence of all that death and civil strife, while rarely mentioning the violent conflict directly?

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” Dickinson writes, a line that’s inspired Aaron Schuman’s SLANT, a kind of creative conversation with the poet and her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts, during another deeply divided era in our country’s history. So much of the book is at a slant, including Schuman’s surreal photographs (a slide mysterious atop a building, a pair of skid marks that looks whimsically like a child’s drawing of legs, with feet turned sideways) and the wit that infuses the book’s text pieces, copied from the local police blotter, some that are laugh-out-loud funny, others darker and more troubling, raising questions about our society’s growing distrust and paranoia. I’m especially drawn to how the text and Schuman’s photographs rhyme with each other, fittingly at a slant. Long after I closed the book, one pair continues to linger in my mind. Near the end of the book, the text about a woman reporting something strange in the night sky (“Police determined the light was coming from a star.”) is a slant rhyme with the book’s final image, which perhaps is a star and its constellation, or another heavenly body? Or maybe it’s the remains of fireworks, or some other visual disturbance? In such unsettling times, it seems right somehow that SLANT’s ending is uncertain—like the dash that ends Dickinson’s poem: “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind—"

Originally a poet, Rebecca Norris Webb often interweaves her text and photographs in her seven books, including her second monograph, My Dakota (Radius, 2012), and most recently her two collaborations with Alex Webb: Slant Rhymes (La Fabrica, 2017) and Brooklyn: The City Within (Aperture, 2019). Her upcoming eighth book, Night Calls, will be released in fall 2020 from Radius.