Books Noted

George Eklund, Wanting to be an Element, Finishing Line Press, 2013

by Kenneth McNickle

There is much to be said about what isn't said in George Elkund’s most recent collection of poems. Each line, every stanza—even words themselves—accumulate into free verse portraits of disquieting beauty. “Swept in the Cry” refers not only to what is felt, but what is absent: “The law of conversation has asked everything/ and promises nothing except that we should be naked,/ words passed body to body in their burning./ Each day the world is torn into a new silence/ then swept in the shape of a swollen fist/ born in the centuries before we kissed.” These lines beautifully capture how language itself conveys desire while time’s passage remains the obstacle that love and eros transcend.

The language of Wanting to be an Element is filled with matter, the world’s tangible treasures, but the power of rhythm energizes Eklund’s poetic universe: “I was on a boat with my father./ Nobody knew./ I was on a boat with my father./ Nobody cared./ I was on a boat with my father./ We seemed to know each other./ We didn’t know what would happen, of course./ We didn’t imagine anything but waves/ during our short time afloat”: here, “Lake Erie” subtly ripples in line breaks that convey the sense of a boat bobbing, another example of Eklund’s artful command of language.

Most striking, perhaps, is Eklund’s use of metaphor. “Essay on a Red Planet” begins, “She contained a lovely concept/ As Mars appeared above the trees./ She imagined the old woman’s children/ Gathered and named once only/ Upon the windless plain/ Where no one has walked,/ Where no one has died or risen.” Each careful line traverses the space between epiphany and yearning, opposing fields that connect myth, cosmos, and isolated landscape. “Wanting to be an Element,” Eklund’s title poem, decisively captures this perspective: “A rock, an element through which we might/ Change the terrain of memory,/ The eyes at a funeral/ The mouths at a funeral./ I am an entertainer/ And don’t want to be./ I want to look at myself washing myself/ So my children will understand/ Why I kept making words.” Here, through a concise unfolding, Eklund reveals his overall motive for writing, an impulse that joins his identity as a father to his calling as an artist in a mortal world. In Wanting to be an Element, imaginative leaps such as these evoke a world that is original and compelling, in a unique voice that is quiet and arresting. This is a collection that repays rereading, offering a world whose author—meditative, witty, and reverent—prays “in all four directions of the future” (“The Lighthouse”).

Kenneth McNickle is a student at Loyola University in Maryland.

Chris Emery, The Departure, Salt Publishing, 2012

      by Morgan Harlow

He nevere yit no vilainye ne saide
In al his lif unto no manere wight:
He was a verray, parfit, gentil knight.
               —from the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales by 
                  Geoffrey Chaucer

Chris Emery’s The Departure is narrative poetry told by strength of deduction, the negative what-is-not-is-true, what is left. One begins to look for the Chaucerian double negative of the Knight’s Tale—a way of looking, seeing defining, being that feels age-old, timeless. Emery’s use of the negative feels traditional but not as a relic, rather, refreshed and furthering dark, visionary- this is what is new under the sun, or rather to express it more fittingly using the original negative from Ecclesiastes to Shakespeare as handed down the generations, “there is nothing new under the sun” if not this which Emery delivers new to us. Here the negative is not double, and not singular, it is multitudinous in a journey that resembles a pilgrimage, a departure that is also a beginning.

Here too, one plus one seems naturally to equal two together, when the journey of The Departure is read as referencing the milestones reached in a marriage, in particular in “On Leaving Wale Obelisk”—“and with everything to come our way” with emphasis on “our way” highlighting  the difference made in life between passive and active choice.

With mention of leaves and leaving, autumn, death, graves, waste, silence, ghosts, grief, rust, these poems have a pagan centered-on-earth feel, and Emery’s is a gentle voice, speaking as a concerned partner and a feminist, when asking, in “On the Making of Entrances,”—“Would you imagine it could occur in a bed like this?”

“Southwold” with the ellided “Mornings’re” reads like an update from Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach “Listen! you hear the grating roar / Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling”; “Where ignorant armies clash by night”:

We hear the darker pebbles
with their foam hems, faintly clacking
. . .

We’re spruced up, mediators in an evening
swollen free from cities, chalking up meaning
below the swashes of power lines.

Our world is an intersection of urban decay and the physical mechanical universe: “when the world rinds its iron glove” (“The Gathering”) and takes on an animal character, Jung’s anima and animus, old gods “the sea’s womb bursts and adopts” (“Southwold”) “and Jupiter listens in, / its rusty ears” (“The Gathering”).

These poems are large in theme, cinematic, and painterly.

Further observations: 

Morgan Harlow is the author of Midwest Ritual Burning (Eyewear Publishing, 2012). Her fiction, poems and other writing have appeared in Blackbox Manifold, Tusculum Review, Washington Square, The Moth, and elsewhere.

Sandra Miranda Tully, Every Fleeting Thing, Poems for Prayer and Meditation, Durnford’s Landing, 2013

by Mariann Ritzer

The opening poem in any book of poetry needs to singe my eyebrows just a bit, needs to grab me by the collar and sit me down. I demand this because life is short, because I crave good poems. The opening poem in Every Fleeting Thing did not disappoint.

When I Think of Time

Every day whole hours

seep through the cracks
of my corporeal life.
I do not notice
until I look at the palms
of my hands
scored from clutching
the rim of the world.

Between yes and no
is a sacred space—
getting there and
starting again
I could rest—and flourish

There is something in today
that cannot be measured.

There is such freshness, such emotional veracity in  “hands/scored from clutching/the rim of the world.”  That image alone makes this book of poetry a must read.  And, yes, there is also something in this collection of poems “that cannot be measured.”  That something is the depth of emotional truth.  Whether Tully is writing about family, aging, nature, or spirituality, interwoven in her truth, you’ll find yours.

In “Stones” she explores loss and grief:  “ . . .no release--/porcelain in the throat.”
And how precisely the metaphor in “Galileo’s Heir” captures the power of the parent/child bond:  “And your daughter/new star, will turn/you in her universe.”

I was particularly taken with “Rounding Down.” 

We keep our distance from old age.
It is too close to death and we are afraid
of what little we know about dying.

These opening lines singe our eyebrows with stark truth. But then she takes an unexpected turn in the poem; we are suddenly on a journey with “a sunset red retriever/ who left in his sleep . . Dressed in his silk coat/ everything dear circled in close.”  The metaphor speaks such universal truth.

In “Risk” Tully explores the more complex side of her spiritual truth.

You grip an implacable stone ledge
on the bank, refusing to move
with the current, tugging and cold.

But you do because  “You know this river.”  And we do.

Mariann Ritzer (Hartland, WI) has taught creative writing courses at WCTC for twenty-two years.  She has published two chapbooks of poetry and a chapbook of short fiction as well as two broadsides published by CrossRoads Prsss.