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Moorefield House Publishing



Santino DallaVecchia's Review of Water Fragments

Posted on February 1, 2018 at 8:05 AM

Water Fragments. Catie Hannigan. Tammy, 2017.

Print. 40 pages. $13.00. Available at

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..

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