Water Fragments. Catie Hannigan. Tammy, 2017.
Print. 40 pages. $13.00. Available at tammyjournal.com.
Review by Santino DallaVecchia.
Catie Hannigan’s second chapbook, Water Fragments, manages to be both sparse and dense,
brief and expansive, evocative and somber. It’s a book about water or, more specifically, about
who we are in relation to water. But who is the we? Is it just the speaker, a sort of omniscient
voice that seems like it could be the author, or is this a book meant to encompass us as a whole, a
species, or is it a communication yearning for its own kind, for those touched by water, by those
who rely on water not just for survival but for their sense of humanity? This isn’t a question
Hannigan poses or explicitly answers, but it’s one worth considering, inasmuch as Water
Fragments is equal parts transcendental and inscrutable. I felt drawn into the cadence of water;
I’m writing this now after having spent time in the woods, staring at a bog, and am immediately
drawn to this passage:
Not surprisingly, the trickling of water has led to other memory reservoirs. For
instance, W.B. Yeats, commenting on the inspiration of his poem “The Lake Isle
of Innisfree” (Part I, Islands), recalled that:
I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop window which
balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the
sudden remembrance came my poem “Innisfree,” my first lyric with anything in
its rhythm of my own music.
Water calls to water and even the memory of water leads us back to water. All I can see right
now is the green film over the still water and the impression it now has of both Innisfree and
Hannigan’s notion of water memories. So– this is a book especially for the water-haunted, and
perhaps it’ll make the most sense to any reader right after they’ve encountered water. Because
the collection of fragments– think maybe Maggie Nelson at her more academic or T.
Fleischmann at their most meditative– isn’t easy to read. It meanders and pauses and detaches
only to suddenly become wry and worldly only to shift again and become purely poetry. And–
like water– other things float along. The above passage is somewhat more straightforward than
most of the book, but it’s nonetheless representative of the interweaving of other poets into her
fragments. The net result is a full argument about the nature of human consciousness as it relates
to water, but one told over the great stretches and unities and divides between water’s different
forms and our differing relationships to these forms. Hannigan writes, “The crux of the work is
to use the source as the source. I wanted to see what would happen if I used my subject as my
only sources: water and poetry.” The work itself concurs– there’s little present that isn’t an
intimate mediation and meditation between water, its encounter with humans, and the poetry that
Water Fragments leads us through many different kinds of water, many different bodies and
forms reservoirs of water take, and writes about them both boldly and humbly. Hannigan carries
on a careful balance: she omits our human inclination to anthropomorphize and ergo make
un-strange the massive and beautiful inhumanity that is water. But she concurrently refuses the
reverse inclination, that is, to think of the water clinically, as something outside the field of
human perception, which, for the purposes of any human discussion, is impossible. How do the
many faces of water look back at us, she asks, and how are those faces really us seeking
revelation through the water? In a final section, titled “Water Notes,” there’s a few pages of
almost unnoted endnotes; one reads,“Water is constantly receiving / it cannot give / and that is
why we feel we must take. We arrive as repenters, we leave as thieves.” The water isn’t feeling
here– it’s solely performing an action, the action endemic to its nature– where we, water’s
witnesses, are both supplicants and pilferers of its unknowing gifts. Exploring the ramifications
of this relationship is a central impulse throughout the chapbook. In one of the most moving
passages, Hannigan writes,
Although the sea is the one who waits, it also contains the immensity. It is wise.
Its wisdom reinforces its power, and this is why we seek it for guidance, why we
are brought to tears when we are face to face with the sea. This is also why we
can never be the sea, we are not built for such immensity. However, we possess
our own sense of the watershed. We have our own giving body, taking body, and
containing body, but we cannot be just one, or else there would be no flux, and if
there is no flux, then we are merely stagnant. Water is change.
There’s a sense that all these fluxes are contained indivisibly within the sea’s vastness, where in
the human body, our “sense of watershed” occurs in varying states, in our very human
changeability. We see in the ocean ourselves perfected, but recognize this unattainability, and
steal away with a sense of both possibility and loss. This is the hinge on which the whole text
rests: the moving stasis of water in all its forms as a constant, with humans and our seeking of
water as a variable. Catie Hannigan immerses us in this meditation insistently and tenderly. “To
reject the water’s darkness,” she writes, “is to live in fear.” To help us not live in fear, she offers
a meandering story about water, and people, and poetry. She reveals the scope of our
interrelationship, and the depth of our spiritual need for water’s presence in her minimal yet
capacious little guidebook, Water Fragments..