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Eric Pankey’s Reliquaries

Tyler Babbie’s 3rd Review: Eric Pankey’s Reliquaries

           Eric Pankey’s book Reliquaries did not thrill me much.  It is a very long book of lyric poetry, fifty poems long.  Only a few of the poems reached me.  Those that did were quite good, and those that didn’t weren’t bad.  Just not the flavor I favor. 

            One thing that seems common in contemporary poetry is a tendency to reference other works of art and music.  This sort of ekphrasis is tricky to pull off gracefully.  Some of Pankey’s poems seem like tributes to his playlist, such as “Let Me Rest on that Peaceful Mountian.”  The second stanza of the poem is a list of Bob Dylan’s favorite tunes, then Pankey’s.  I don’t quite know how to take that, but it doesn’t read interestingly despite the strange line breaks.  The poem ends in a sort of abstract nowhere, “How often the out-there seems a diorama, a lesson in an enclosure, an example of the real.”  Sure, I understand that he is looking out the window of a car, but I also don’t quite get the transition from Dylan’s favorites to this driving home.  The poem does invoke senility and the difficulty of threading thoughts together, but I am nearly certain that the poem’s disunity is not intended to reflect an aging mind.

            I will say that I am extremely picky in my poetry, and I usually tend to love poems that sound amazing whether what they mean is interesting or not.  Pankey’s soundwork is less than ornate, which means I cannot be more than lukewarm to his work.

            But enough of that, there are some good poems here.  “Salvaged Nails” has the sound and the depth that I appreciate.  The poem is about summer jobs held in his youth, and interesting memory-poem and well written, too.  My favorite line in the book is this one: “The hay chaff and dust glint and flicker in the loft-light as I doze and laze in the barn’s slatted shade.”  That line sounds great.  The assonances and alternation of heavy and light stress patterns make it stand out to me as a wonderful line.  Looking past the sound, the poem contains multiple statements about humanity and life that are subsumed into the narrative, as in Faulkner or other great writers.  Pankey examines the human striving to create and the fragility of our mortal bodies.  Family, work, sleep, light; there are details enough for me to think about and the sound makes me want more poetry like this.

            One thing that puzzled me throughout the book was its line breaks, which tend to extend past the physical page.  Long lines take on the look of continuity, while the hanging indents make it clear that there is actually no such thing.  I wonder what the book would look like as a rectangle, turned on its side.  The lines would be very long and perhaps ragged.  It seems dishonest to bend a poem to fit a page, but that is probably a publishing issue more than an artistic one.

            Overall, I was not too excited by this book.  Fifty poems are a lot to ask of anyone, and I think that Eric Pankey may have put a few too many in Reliquaries.  As wonderful as a shapely volume may be, it is perhaps more important to distill a few high-quality poems than make the even fifty.  There are good poems and very good poems in this book- but it is work to find them.

 Review 3

Eric Pankey’s Reliquaries

            Eric Pankey’s book Reliquaries did not thrill me much.  It is a very long book of lyric poetry, fifty poems long.  Only a few of the poems reached me.  Those that did were quite good, and those that didn’t weren’t bad.  Just not the flavor I favor. 

            One thing that seems common in contemporary poetry is a tendency to reference other works of art and music.  This sort of ekphrasis is tricky to pull off gracefully.  Some of Pankey’s poems seem like tributes to his playlist, such as “Let Me Rest on that Peaceful Mountian.”  The second stanza of the poem is a list of Bob Dylan’s favorite tunes, then Pankey’s.  I don’t quite know how to take that, but it doesn’t read interestingly despite the strange line breaks.  The poem ends in a sort of abstract nowhere, “How often the out-there seems a diorama, a lesson in an enclosure, an example of the real.”  Sure, I understand that he is looking out the window of a car, but I also don’t quite get the transition from Dylan’s favorites to this driving home.  The poem does invoke senility and the difficulty of threading thoughts together, but I am nearly certain that the poem’s disunity is not intended to reflect an aging mind.

            I will say that I am extremely picky in my poetry, and I usually tend to love poems that sound amazing whether what they mean is interesting or not.  Pankey’s soundwork is less than ornate, which means I cannot be more than lukewarm to his work.

            But enough of that, there are some good poems here.  “Salvaged Nails” has the sound and the depth that I appreciate.  The poem is about summer jobs held in his youth, and interesting memory-poem and well written, too.  My favorite line in the book is this one: “The hay chaff and dust glint and flicker in the loft-light as I doze and laze in the barn’s slatted shade.”  That line sounds great.  The assonances and alternation of heavy and light stress patterns make it stand out to me as a wonderful line.  Looking past the sound, the poem contains multiple statements about humanity and life that are subsumed into the narrative, as in Faulkner or other great writers.  Pankey examines the human striving to create and the fragility of our mortal bodies.  Family, work, sleep, light; there are details enough for me to think about and the sound makes me want more poetry like this.

            One thing that puzzled me throughout the book was its line breaks, which tend to extend past the physical page.  Long lines take on the look of continuity, while the hanging indents make it clear that there is actually no such thing.  I wonder what the book would look like as a rectangle, turned on its side.  The lines would be very long and perhaps ragged.  It seems dishonest to bend a poem to fit a page, but that is probably a publishing issue more than an artistic one.

            Overall, I was not too excited by this book.  Fifty poems are a lot to ask of anyone, and I think that Eric Pankey may have put a few too many in Reliquaries.  As wonderful as a shapely volume may be, it is perhaps more important to distill a few high-quality poems than make the even fifty.  There are good poems and very good poems in this book- but it is work to find them.

Review 3: Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon’s The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea is an extremely thought-provoking collection of poems, though not necessarily the most accessible.  As of yet, the book is Haddon’s only published venture into poetry, and is the first release since his critically acclaimed and widely consumed novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, narrated from the perspective of a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Having read this popular story, I came into Talking Horse with very specific expectations.  I saw Haddon as observant, moving, and somewhat eccentric.  I would say that Talking Horse attempts to be all of those things, but really fails to affect the reader because it is so self-aware and esoteric.

A strange pop-up-book style cover initiates the reader into Haddon’s unconventional world, where materialism and mythology vie equally for the author’s attention.  One of his major themes is human progress, which I personally find very interesting.  Yet Haddon does not seem to be delivering a clear message about development.  Sometimes he seems to be criticizing the greedy and destructive existence of the modern man, yet at other times he seems to be associating himself with this world, suddenly viewed as one of culture and awareness.

Throughout the work, Haddon includes certain of Horace’s Odes, which he has translated himself and re-titled.  Though vaguely interesting to compare to the more faithful translations, I never really understood what Haddon was trying to say about these historical texts.  A few of his poems read more like prose – he plays with format throughout, yet again, I struggle to see his purpose.

His strongest poems, in my opinion, are the ones that are most straightforward.  For example, “Midas,” which reads:

            “You rarely hear the prologue–

            where ants are marching from the window

            to the crib, each one carrying

            a grain of wheat to feed the infant king,

 

            the meaning of the story still unwrapped,

            the picture fresh as water in a clay jug

            or a hot loaf not yet frozen solid

            by the king’s greed.”

 

Here, Haddon is playing with images of innocence, contrasting a notorious fictional character’s greed in adulthood with the expectation of greatness that came with his birth.  It is a poignant and unique perspective, which I really appreciated.  There seems to be a sense of redemption, of hope, that we all have a chance to make the right choices.  In addition, Haddon’s criticism of a materialistic society is overt for his readers.  Not to mention, the deliberate and slow rhythm which calls us, beautifully, to pause on almost every word.

            In contrast, Haddon’s poem “Nuns,” which is as long as it is unfocused.  Listing places and perspectives that one may view these “nuns,” which I never was able to see as anything else, Haddon’s metaphor becomes almost insufferable to read:

            “or walking, as they walk now,

            up the harsh rake of the lanes,

            past burger bars and butchers,

           

            past the Grand Hotel,

            the Smuggler’s Haven,

            and the Wall of China,

           

            past the car park and the campsite,

            past the Esso station

            and the padlocked school…”

 

…And so on.

 

Haddon is an intriguing author, but one with whom it is difficult to relate.  I appreciated a number of the poems, and would recommend the collection to anyone who is looking for a challenge, but in general, I prefer authors who are more upfront with their readers, and who have a clear message that they want to share.  Haddon seems to believe he is in some sort of special club of elite writers, whom he defines in his poem, “Poets,” and he therefore isolates himself from his reader.

Review No. 2– Stephen Dunn

  Tyler BabbieFinally, I’ve found another recent book and really loved it.  Stephen Dunn’s book Different Hours was published in 2000, and I adore it.  Dunn writes right on the cusp of the confessional and the private, creating a sort of restrained confessional poetry that I really appreciate.  His explorations of love and aging all sound sincere and honest.  But most importantly, the poetry is of an extremely high quality.  The soundwork is good, the rhythms and the conceits are magnificent.

            The book is broken into four parts, and I’m afraid that after just one or two readings of the book I cannot say exactly what the parts mean.  There seems to be a build towards a mature retrospective on life, going over love and death and art and all the important things. 

            Where Dunn most excels is in the placement of last lines.  So many of his poems have what Prof. Emerson calls “D.S. al Capo” where you have to go read the whole thing again in light of the last line.  Or perhaps not so extreme a turn, rather, the last line will conclude the poem so that there’s no extra, no excess.  Sometimes this is less successful than others, but in poems like “Dog Weather,” the last lines can be striking.  This poem is about getting old, wandering around in the snow.  It ends with receiving and AARP card in the mail, and the last line is “I can be discounted now almost anywhere.”  That’s a pretty devastating thing to say, Mr. Dunn.  Getting old will be hard.

            Dunn also has some interesting mythic revisions.  My favorite is the poem “Androgyne.”  It is about finding a soul mate and losing them, then finding them again.  Their love is deeper and more inexorable than gender, hence “Androgyne.”  Some wonderful lines from this poem include “and in dreams I whisper back./ But we make fewer plans.”  At the end, overtaken by age, the speaker is happy just to sit by his lost love in the park.

            Perhaps my favorite poem in the book is the last one, “A Postmortem Guide: For my eulogist, in advance.”  This poem is perfectly placed at the end of a long good book of lyric poetry- anywhere else and it couldn’t be taken quite so seriously.  But here, at the end of the book, we know a little bit about the poet and his honesty.  Now he sets forth his view of his own death, summarizing his life and beliefs.  It is a masterpiece in humanism, a bleak but not hopeless look at life, religion, and death.  Included are statements as sweeping as:

“Know that I’ve admired in others

only the fraught straining

to be good.”

This poem congeals the feel of the whole book, an old man in a dry month, thinking about the time left.  The last lines in “Postmortem Guide” end the book of poetry on just the right chord to capture the music of the whole book:

“You who are one of them, say that I loved

my companions most of all.

In all sincerity, say they provided

a better way to be alone.”

 Finally, I’ve found another recent book and really loved it.  Stephen Dunn’s book Different Hours was published in 2000, and I adore it.  Dunn writes right on the cusp of the confessional and the private, creating a sort of restrained confessional poetry that I really appreciate.  His explorations of love and aging all sound sincere and honest.  But most importantly, the poetry is of an extremely high quality.  The soundwork is good, the rhythms and the conceits are magnificent.

            The book is broken into four parts, and I’m afraid that after just one or two readings of the book I cannot say exactly what the parts mean.  There seems to be a build towards a mature retrospective on life, going over love and death and art and all the important things. 

            Where Dunn most excels is in the placement of last lines.  So many of his poems have what Prof. Emerson calls “D.S. al Capo” where you have to go read the whole thing again in light of the last line.  Or perhaps not so extreme a turn, rather, the last line will conclude the poem so that there’s no extra, no excess.  Sometimes this is less successful than others, but in poems like “Dog Weather,” the last lines can be striking.  This poem is about getting old, wandering around in the snow.  It ends with receiving and AARP card in the mail, and the last line is “I can be discounted now almost anywhere.”  That’s a pretty devastating thing to say, Mr. Dunn.  Getting old will be hard.

            Dunn also has some interesting mythic revisions.  My favorite is the poem “Androgyne.”  It is about finding a soul mate and losing them, then finding them again.  Their love is deeper and more inexorable than gender, hence “Androgyne.”  Some wonderful lines from this poem include “and in dreams I whisper back./ But we make fewer plans.”  At the end, overtaken by age, the speaker is happy just to sit by his lost love in the park.

            Perhaps my favorite poem in the book is the last one, “A Postmortem Guide: For my eulogist, in advance.”  This poem is perfectly placed at the end of a long good book of lyric poetry- anywhere else and it couldn’t be taken quite so seriously.  But here, at the end of the book, we know a little bit about the poet and his honesty.  Now he sets forth his view of his own death, summarizing his life and beliefs.  It is a masterpiece in humanism, a bleak but not hopeless look at life, religion, and death.  Included are statements as sweeping as:

“Know that I’ve admired in others

only the fraught straining

to be good.”

This poem congeals the feel of the whole book, an old man in a dry month, thinking about the time left.  The last lines in “Postmortem Guide” end the book of poetry on just the right chord to capture the music of the whole book:

“You who are one of them, say that I loved

my companions most of all.

In all sincerity, say they provided

a better way to be alone.”

Review No. 1– John Ashbery

 Tyler Babbie

I hadn’t read John Ashbery in a while, so I figured he’d be a good start for my reviews.  I’d rather read older poetry, not because it is established, but because there’s a good chance that someone loves it.  Otherwise it wouldn’t have survived.  If someone loved it, I might, too.  Ashbery was, I thought, a way around the inconsistency of contemporary poetry, the unwinnowed grain.  I’d read Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror and liked it, and read Girls on the Run and adored it.  Girls on the Run was incredible, a fantasy-narrative about an outsider artist’s masterwork, I recommend it.  I figured I’d be getting more of that quality with Where Shall I Wander, his 2005 anthology of poems. 

            Now, I love some difficult poetry.  Sometimes it isn’t easy to say clearly what needs to be said, it needs to be teased out.  But this book is extremely difficult, to the point that I think it might be more private poetry than public.  Many of the poems seem directed at a specific individual with a specific event in mind, with neither clearly depicted.  Bring a dictionary when you get ready to read Where Shall I Wander.  Some words I had to look up are: cathexis, Coromandel screen, farandole, tilth, septuor, Totentanz.  Some are interesting words, but be ready for them.  I like Totentanz, which is the danse macabre of medieval tradition.  And tilth, tilled land.  Dictionaries never hurt anyone, but they do hurt some of the rhythm of the poetry as you refer out and then jump back in, or finish without understanding.  The only thing to do is look up the words and start again, at the beginning. 

That wouldn’t bother me much, normally, but the poetry isn’t particularly interesting either.  The lines are very broken up by caesura and end-stops, lending a heavy halting beat to language.  I prefer language that rolls, flowing from line to line.  The poems are free verse, but not compelling metrically. 

            The strength of the book is its juxtaposition and revision of images.  Things jump out at you, frighteningly defamiliarized.  This is a lot like Girls on the Run but it seems to go down easier as ekphrasis, when the poetry is about an extant work of art. 

            Now I’ll give a couple examples of what isn’t that great.  There’s one poem in particular, “The New Higher.”  I cannot tell if he is kidding.  The poem strains to rhyme, reaching to the ridiculous:

                                                    …I came to where

you were living, up a stair.  There was no one there. 

No one to appreciate me.  The legality of it

upset a chair…

The poem must be self conscious criticism of Ashbery’s own writing.  As it is also the poem in the inside of the book’s dust jacket, it is important.  I need to spend more time with the poem in order to justify my feelings better, but right now I do not think it is a good poem. 

            I was disappointed by this book, but perhaps it will rub you right–

 I hadn’t read John Ashbery in a while, so I figured he’d be a good start for my reviews.  I’d rather read older poetry, not because it is established, but because there’s a good chance that someone loves it.  Otherwise it wouldn’t have survived.  If someone loved it, I might, too.  Ashbery was, I thought, a way around the inconsistency of contemporary poetry, the unwinnowed grain.  I’d read Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror and liked it, and read Girls on the Run and adored it.  Girls on the Run was incredible, a fantasy-narrative about an outsider artist’s masterwork, I recommend it.  I figured I’d be getting more of that quality with Where Shall I Wander, his 2005 anthology of poems. 

            Now, I love some difficult poetry.  Sometimes it isn’t easy to say clearly what needs to be said, it needs to be teased out.  But this book is extremely difficult, to the point that I think it might be more private poetry than public.  Many of the poems seem directed at a specific individual with a specific event in mind, with neither clearly depicted.  Bring a dictionary when you get ready to read Where Shall I Wander.  Some words I had to look up are: cathexis, Coromandel screen, farandole, tilth, septuor, Totentanz.  Some are interesting words, but be ready for them.  I like Totentanz, which is the danse macabre of medieval tradition.  And tilth, tilled land.  Dictionaries never hurt anyone, but they do hurt some of the rhythm of the poetry as you refer out and then jump back in, or finish without understanding.  The only thing to do is look up the words and start again, at the beginning. 

That wouldn’t bother me much, normally, but the poetry isn’t particularly interesting either.  The lines are very broken up by caesura and end-stops, lending a heavy halting beat to language.  I prefer language that rolls, flowing from line to line.  The poems are free verse, but not compelling metrically. 

            The strength of the book is its juxtaposition and revision of images.  Things jump out at you, frighteningly defamiliarized.  This is a lot like Girls on the Run but it seems to go down easier as ekphrasis, when the poetry is about an extant work of art. 

            Now I’ll give a couple examples of what isn’t that great.  There’s one poem in particular, “The New Higher.”  I cannot tell if he is kidding.  The poem strains to rhyme, reaching to the ridiculous:

                                                    …I came to where

you were living, up a stair.  There was no one there. 

No one to appreciate me.  The legality of it

upset a chair…

The poem must be self conscious criticism of Ashbery’s own writing.  As it is also the poem in the inside of the book’s dust jacket, it is important.  I need to spend more time with the poem in order to justify my feelings better, but right now I do not think it is a good poem. 

            I was disappointed by this book, but perhaps it will rub you right–

“Star Dust” – Poetry Review # 3

Star Dust by Frank Bidart, published in 2005, was a finalist for the National Book Award. This book is split into two sections of poetry. The first, entitled Music Like Dirt, contains fourteen poems. The second untitled section contains nine poems.

It’s easy to pick out the main theme of his poetry: to make something of oneself. In “Advice to the Players,” Bidart tells his readers, “Making is the mirror in which we see ourselves. / But being is making: not only large things, a family, a book, a busi – / ness: but the shape we give this afternoon, a conversation between / two friends, a meal.” For Bidart, life is about the smallest details, what we give back to the world, not what we obtain from it. Conversation can be seen as a form of art because it’s what we as human beings make – it’s our contribution of thoughts to the world. As Bidart explains in”For the Twentieth Century,” ” Malibran. Henry Irving. The young / Joachim. They are lost, a mountain of // newspaper clippings, become words / not their own words. The art of the performer.” Though these men are gone, their contributions to the world of thought have lived on – these words are their artwork.

Young Marx again tells readers that life isn’t meant to be focused on the material goods we obtain. He writes, “The only / appropriate gift is discovered to be / inseperable from / the giver, for man can only give himself.”

Bidart shows a great assertive power in his writing that does’t leave much room for the reader to negate his thoughts. His work is both bewitching and believable. In”Lament for the Makers ,” Bidart turns his thoughts of “making” towards the procreation of human offspring. “I have it. What parents leave you / is their lives. / Until my mother died she struggled to make / a house that she did not loathe; paintings; poems; me. / Many creatures must / make, but only one must seek / within itself what to make / Not bird not badger not beaver not bee.” These four animals must make a certain nest, den or hive in order to live. We as humans must make a home for ourselves that gives us happiness. Parents live for their children, they struggle to make things wonderful for themselves and for their future generations. Bidart would argue that parents do not leave behind money or jewels, but themselves. The stories they tell their children of their own childhood, the lessons they taught their children while they were growing up – these are the most important things parents leave behind.
Section II of Star Dust deals a lot with death. The first poem, “Curse,” is a literal cursing of the pilots that crashed into the Twin Towers. He writes, “May what you have made descend upon you. / May the listening ears of your victims their eyes their // breath // enter you, and eat like acid / the bubble of rectitude that allowed you breath.” Bidart is able to project the violence and anger of September 11 without overdoing it. Continuing with his theme of “making,” Bidart gives an unsettling portrayal of what happens when one makes something evil of themselves.

Section II ends with “The Third Hour of the Night,” the third in a sequence of longer poems, beginning with “The First Hour of the Night” (from an earlier work). This poem contains much more violence and grimmer explications compared to the rest of this book. This poem is broken into three sections: the first, personal; the second, the story of Benvenuto Cellini; the third, a story of a shaman raping an innocent woman with a magic “killing stick.” The third is the grimmest section of the poem. Bidart gives a vivid description of a rape, both phsycial and psychic. The man raping the woman “makes” himself a sort of law giver over her. He degrades her, body and mind, and gains control over her. He tells her she will die in two days, and because he made himself her controller, she enacts this. This poem brings up the concept of destroying something in order to exert complete power over it – to make something one’s own.

The whole book is about making. The desire to make is within us, a desire separate from the impulse to destroy. In “The Third Hour of the Night,” Bidart says, “Once you reach what is / inside it is outside.” As humans we are constantly trying to get at the core of something. Once we reach this core, we find something else. Art strives to be the center of this core – that which can explain the unexplainable. What we “make” throughout our lifetime should aim at this goal, much like Frank Bidart aims at it in Star Dust.

“Pomes All Sizes” – Review # 2

Not only is Jack Kerouac’s book of poems, Pomes All Sizes, a collection of poems ranging from three lines to 200 hundred lines, his poems also vary in their style, subjects and intended audience. His poems are about his travels to Mexico, Tangier, Berkeley and the Bowerey. They range from silly and bizarre to serious, stimulating and somber, dedicated either to his friends, the road, drugs, wine or gods of many sizes.

Pomes All Sizes was written between 1954 and 1965, but kept from bookshelves by City Lights since Kerouac’s death in 1969 until its publication in 1992. Kerouac, best known for his novels, especially On the Road, writes poetry that flows as easily as his prose. His thoughts flow gracefully from one to the next, despite change in speakers or tone. “Hitchhiker” on page 8 flows like thi:

“‘Tryna get to sunny Californy’ – / Boom. It’s an awful raincoat / making me look like a selfdefeated self- / murdering imaginary gangster, and idiot in / a rueful coat, how can they understand / my damp packs – my mud packs – / ‘Look John, a hitchhiker’ / ‘He looks like he’s got a gun underneath that I.R.A. coat'”

This poem begins with the hitchhiker telling the audience his destination. His sunny destination is vastly different from the rainy setting he’s currently in. Kerouac cleverly paints rain without describing the rain itself. The readers are aware of his thought process through his stimulating image of the hitchiker carrying his damp, muddy back packs. The change in speakers allows us to see the hitchhiker through many different points of view. The other men’s thoughts on the hitchhiker mirror exactly what the hiker thought they would say about him. Without even announcing another speaker, the next man replies. Kerouac’s writing flows so naturally that he needn’t point readers exactly where he wants them to go, his natural rhythm does that for him.

Each poem in Pomes All Sizes tells readers that this life they’re living is a great one, and should be lived fully until death, for death is inevitable and this beautiful life should be enjoyed. Take, for example, Pome on page 166.

“If I dont use the cork / I may spill the wine – / But if I do?”

This three line poem seems to get at the big message Kerouac is trying to put across. If the cork is used, the wine is left alone. However, if the bottle is left uncorcked, the possibilities are endless. Accordingly, the wine will make one enjoy life – Kerouac loved his wine. So, take a chance and live life to the fullest, despite the small chance that some spillage may occur.

This theme goes on throughout this collection. Consider these lines from “Gatha,” page 54.

“The simplest fact / is that all things / die off – the / least faced anywhere – ”

This poem ends with the line, “‘Why predict the predictable?'” Kerouac points out that you will, in fact, die – this isn’t avoidable. So, embrace it and live life to the fullest. One day the chance won’t be there to do the things you want to do. Why live with regrets? Don’t predict that you will die, because eventually you will. Think not of dying, but of living. In death one can’t dream of living, so there’s no sense in wasting time dreaming of dying when there is so much living left to be done.

Another theme Kerouac puts forth is that with every death breeds new life. Although the inevitability of death may be saddening, readers should find comfort in these lines from “A Curse at the Devil,” page 173, appropriately placed as the last poem in this collection.

“My rosy tomatoes / pop squirting / from your awful / rotten grave -”

Pomes All Sizes attempts to encompass the positive and negative componants of existence as a human being. Life shouldn’t be about money and prestige, but adventures and the friendships obtained while experiencing life. As Kerouac states in “Bus East” on page 3, “Live for survival, not for “kicks.”

Life is both of the mind and the body.

“Isle of Palms” Revision- let me know what you think!

Dec. 30, 2006: Sullivan’s Island SC

It was his first trip:
his first deep sniff
of the sea restricted
by half-rolled windows
smudged with nose-
shaped wet. He leaned
far into the dark,
ready to run
eight long backseat
hours later.

I let loose the frayed
leash and with a jingle
he darted toward
the wide white beach
his first view
of the infinite sea
and sky side
by side.

His black form blurred
fast in the distance, but
the light from the full
moon bounced
from his back
and the calm
high tide. I could see
the mounds of shimmering
sea foam erupt as he ran
straight through.

I squinted into the dark,
trusting he’d stop,
knowing I could never catch him.

Poetry Volume Review: Robert Wrigley

Jenny Fey

Robert Wrigley’s “Reign of Snakes” could be fairly classified as a collection of nature poems, but a more accurate description would recognize that Wrigley’s focus is really on people.  In his discussions of death, fear, love, and relationships, Wrigley uses nature to demonstrate the ways that people respond to external stimuli.  Since the natural world calls on all the human senses, our interactions with the earth around us create significant reactions.

            The collection is divided into five sections, labeled one through four, and then followed by “Envoy.”  All of the sections begin with an isolated long poem, italicized, which tends to be indicative of the general themes of the coming section, be they death, philosophy, the human figure.  The first, second and fourth then follow with a number of shorter poems which converse with another.  The third section contains only the italicized poem and another long poem, titled Reign of Snakes, which is further divided into parts.  “Envoy” only contains one long poem titled “The Name.”  This complex organization of the collection is thought provoking; all the sections are different, but work well together and within themselves.

            Two of the most poignant poems in the first group, which really speak to one another, are “Sad Moose” and “Art.”  The former tells of an injured moose, whose wounds are so bad that he struggles to find food and lives in constant fear of the creatures that would hunt him.  The speaker has observed the moose for some time, considering him with great pity.  When the moose charges him one day, driving him into a tree for safety, the speaker recognizes the power and pride that the moose still retains despite his weakened state.  The next day the speaker contemplates the gun with him, and how it can protect him from the danger that the moose faces:

“In my jacket pocket, five bullets/rattle like beads. Fire, I think/and language, possibly love/I have these things a moose does not/Sad moose, sad man.  Sad is the world/a while, as it waits to feed/some of us seed and tendril, some of us stone.” 

With a strange sadness, the speaker acknowledges that both he and the moose are simply subjects to the will of the natural world, even though their fates are very different.  Both he and the moose have been gifted skills to protect themselves, but it is by chance that the speaker survives.

            The poem “Art,” narrates the experiences of the speaker having found a deer caught in a barbed-wire fence.  Far from home, the speaker only has a pocketknife with him and is unable to put the deer out of its misery.  There is nothing he can do but watch the animal die, but he stays and does, considering it a vigil.  The speaker then describes how the owner of the land sold the deer’s antlers and how coyotes tore its body apart.  However, it does not end there, and the speaker finds some special beauty in the scene, noting:

“And today, October 1, 1996, six months weather/and the good work of magpies and maggots/have made this display, this sculpture, this door/the wind leans against, and one day, will open.”

            Another poem, where the human is safe from the fate of the animal, where he may even capitalize on the situation.  Yet it is the animal alone that becomes the piece of art, whose gift of life represents the majesty of the natural cycle.

Revision: Hallelujah

Sitting with you on this ancient dock,
Swaying slightly over the black water–
I listen to your voices. They rise together,
Filling the yawning stone hollow of Key Bridge,
That stretches above us like a cavern
Hoisted in the air. They are different,
Every one, but together they strike
Some secret chord, that slides warmly
Down my back, making my skin crawl
With every echo. The river laps at the uneven wood
By our feet, and somewhere above us evening
Traffic rumbles. But I won’t hear. I am jealous,
Sitting here, listening to your voices.
I wish that I could sing, but more than that–
I am glad that you can.

Revision: The Mammal Exhibit

 From this angle the brilliant
White lights rend the glass
Invisible.  Smears from fingers
And noses disappear.  The giant bear,
Reared back on hind legs, lunges for us
As we huddle together, unprotected.

Herds of visitors steer themselves
Around us, between each other, surging
As though caught in passing currents.
They pause, only to capture their
Moments in a flash of camera light;
They are quickly swept along.

Meanwhile, the lioness attacks:
Her claws forever digging
Into the mud-spattered skin
Of a water buffalo, whose eyes
Stream, wide with unalleviated fear,
As he hurtles toward us.

The air is thick with the drone of voices,
Pierced with creature calls competing
For attention.  Nearby, a family presses
In around a shadowed case, the father
Bending to tap upon the window, unaware
That it retains no speck of life.

Above our heads, the wiry tail
Of a capuchin monkey hangs
In mid twitch and a fruit bat
Swoops sharply so close,
That I close my eyes
And wait for impact.

Suddenly we are broken apart
At the hips.  A child, shrieking like some
Untamed beast, streaks between us, but you
Keep your grip on my arm, laughing.
You guide me toward the great blue whale,
Who swims out of water.