Black Aperture book cover

[T]his book gives the feeling of material that has been contemplated and crafted over a relatively great length of time. It feels perfected. So too does it feel like a representative example of how to deal honestly and effectively with personal tragedy in poems ... Its eschewal of the universal and insistence on the specific actually makes it more affecting for the reader and better able to achieve surprising empathy.

Matt Rasmussen concludes his debut book, “Black Aperture,” with a poem “after James Wright.” Wright (who taught at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s and 1960s) was a proponent of the idea of the “deep image” — that concrete images rendered in direct language contain emotional meaning. … By infusing pastoral images reminiscent of Wright with his own strange iconography of grief, Rasmussen creates a style distinctly his own.

He’s asking us to take a dark plunge with him into a murky place of loss. And we do, because he’s so damn inventive in his language and outlook … Rasmussen is also master of taking his reader to a deep place, only to bring them to an even more profound place with a single line.

Certain poets have the ability to create poems of Euclidean clarity. Rasmussen is one such poet. His images make me feel as though I’ve lived for years in the span of a moment. His lapidary poems seem more real than the chair I am sitting on or the room that holds me aloft in space as I type this. Rarely, if at all, do we get the chance to experience reality as we do in Rasmussen’s work. I would not be inappropriate to end this comment by simply saying quod erat demonstrandum.

Black Aperture addresses, with meticulous balance, a single event from multiple directions. Autobiographical, speculative, imaginal, at times bitterly comic, often lyrically surreal, Matt Rasmussen's transformative poems look outward they are built on the observable leaf, field, hand, bird, and act. But this book's central task is the alchemizing of experience by language: the subject here is the suicide of a brother. What cannot be altered remains; yet by changing saying, seeing is also made wider, more openly porous. The liberations of tongue, word, and conception held in these poems restore the possibility-sense that's as essential to us as oxygen, when a person stands in the chambers of unacceptable loss.

Black Aperture is an elegy that maps, in attentive slow motion, how death’s dark flower ruptures everywhere and inevitably into bloom. Rasmussen sees 'the same body broken open' and sets himself to the careful, exquisite labor of its witness, its disclosure. With this book, he brilliantly conveys how the echo of death crowds us toward our most important questions, one after another, and Rasmussen bravely faces each of them without succumbing to answer. Instead, the poems quake with light.

from Black Aperture


Our answering machine still played your message,
and on the day you died Dad asked me to replace it.

I was chosen to save us the shame of dead you
answering calls. Hello, I have just shot myself.

To leave a message for me, call hell. The clear cassette
lay inside the white machine like a tiny patient

being monitored or a miniature glass briefcase
protecting the scroll of lost voices. Everything barely

mattered and then no longer did. I pressed record
and laid my voice over yours, muting it forever

and even now. I’m sorry we are not here, I began.