If I could only have one book on my coffee table, it would be Chet’la Sebree’s Field Study, winner of the 2020 James Laughlin Award. Field Study skillfully synthesizes writing genres and resists general categorization, upending the conventions of poetry, memoir, and autoethnography ... But it is the delightfully misleading simplicity of its form...which invite 'casual' reading about topics that are anything but casual ... This is a book that demands the verb form of its title. You must study it, there is simply no other way to engage. Field Study is full of unexpected starts and stops. If you’re not paying careful attention to the velocity, a sentence may resonate poignantly...and then offer a rhyming punch to the stomach in the next ... Through open, flexible language, and a speaker who simultaneously demurs and delights in her appetites, Sebree has penned a portrait of ongoing discovery and reclamation.
Chet’la Sebree’s most recent innovative book-length poem, Field Study, assembles moments of sheer honesty about microaggressions, interracial relationships, heartbreak, Blackness, and so much more ... an immersive, intimate exploration of seeing and being seen, of wanting and being wanted. The speaker rigorously attempts to understand pieces of herself in relation to her past romantic relationships ... The connections made through these lyrical odes are mesmerizing and Sebree doesn’t shy away from recounting...poetic truths[.]
It’s through...high-speed accumulation that Field Study announces the purpose for its own making—as if the book needs to rationalize, in the most excruciating moments of remembering, its own vulnerability ... Just as prose suits this book’s anxiety of genre, of categorical understanding and information, these are the unlineated sentences of a poem all the same: when the inflections of a line have been removed, readers who experience these words are asked to listen even more attentively to the rhythms of a sentence ... Field Study strips the ornaments of a staged performance, a poem that resists a sort of allegorical moralizing: because these sections adapt to experience as represented in-process, one feels these are sentences written in real-time, immediately as we encounter them on the page ... This effort toward accepting indeterminacy—both a formal knowledge and a semantic impulse—charges Sebree’s figurative thinking with a lyrical precision: metaphors here do not approximate the evidence that one has lived in a specific place at a specific time. Rather, they become the fact itself ... one understands through this book that 'truth in poetry' depends not on the record of information but on experience: a life represented in metaphor, the patterns of language that make a time-signature through which we listen.