No. 4 & 5



Some Books Received, With Comments 

by Hildred Crill

John Kinsella
Doppler Effect
Cambridge, U.K.: Salt Modern Poets, 2004.

Rupert M. Loydell
A Conference of Voices + Multiple Exposure
Exeter, U.K.: Shearsman Books, 2004.

John Matthias
New Selected Poems
Cambridge, U.K.: Salt Modern Poets, 2004.

   The phenomenon in the title of John Kinsella’s Doppler Effect occurs overtly in some of this large volume’s poems, alongside other consequences within the complicated task of seeing, whether through an array of technological devices or just the bare human eye. Much of the focus burns sharply on the astonishing, biologically diverse and threatened landscapes of Kinsella’s native South Western Australia, home to monotreme and marsupial, home to thousands of plant species, a high percentage of which exist only in that region. But agricultural expansion, extensive fertilization and other anthropogenic influences continue to destroy habitats there. In “graphic, surreal and painful anti-pastorals,” as Marjorie Perloff calls them in her introduction, the land enacts itself—pre-existing landscape and human incursion, fused in the twisting of lines (“the shed skins / of black polythene”), juxtaposed but divided by caesura (“out over red earth: new machines”).  

   Chillingly, examination by Doppler effect opens up unknown, impersonal areas of inquiry and discovery. For wavelength comparison to be noticeable as applied to light, the source must be traveling extremely fast, at least half the speed of light, so a huge territory might hold the observed and the observer. If so, the light source must have begun to shine an incredibly long time ago. Such apprehension of vastness expands the observer’s experience of an object in time and space, such as the land within these poems. Notions of history, memory, distance, perspective, relationship change irretrievably. “The Doppler Effect And The Australian Pastoral” presents the movement’s two directions in “Red Shift” and “Blue Shift.” At first, when it is moving away, the source exhibits a red shift: “In memory it moves steadily into the red / as if the feathers of a Western Rosella / are blood....” Outside predators, hunters with bird traps or that invasive species “the fox moving with the rapid / beat of lightning coruscating the vermilion rim,” bring death. In contrast, when the light source moves closer and the shift is in the blue direction, the bird’s blue feathers visible, the world collapses in on itself, “the desolate expanse / a ruse, feigning infertility.” Here, the enemy is familiar, “drought the cranky codger / who is at once a brown snake / and a racehorse goanna.” Either direction, the shift means great loss.

   As devastating images of chemical waste and rotting compound (“A fly / settles on a fish corpse / and dies”), the observer seems to have little interior landscape. Perhaps technology has irrevocably altered human inwardness: “the night heron / indelible against / the photosensitive river, / a something collected / from deep within / the dark room.” In rare cases, however, gaining sight of enormous loss comes as narrative in the voice of a personal “I”. Ancient and odd, not commonly seen, the echidna uses several senses to make its way in the world in addition to defensive actions like rapid digging into the soil and curling into a spiny ball. In “Echidna,” a poem near the end of the book, the story is told simply:

          I consider as memory tracking an echidna
          with a farmer in Jam Tree country—
          locating the spirit of the place,
          as if its being curled in a tree hollow
          might validate the vast spread
          of open tillage—

    In A Conference of Voices, Rupert M. Loydell maps a close reality, family and neighborhood, as he pushes his “baby, asleep in her buggy, / around the streets” and sees the world in amazement for a second time. These narratives eventually gather a momentum of side comment that soon sheds most narrative (“I treat myself as a privileged ghost”) but holds on to informal voice and leisurely pace in order to pursue imagining all the way to its conclusions in “Unexpected Angles and Aerial Perspective,” “Interviewing Dr. Frankenstein,” “Learning to Live With Train Crashes,” and “A Do-It-Yourself Turin Shroud.”

    With this backdrop of domestic life and relentless probing, the second part of Loydell’s book, Multiple Exposure, goes still farther inward to explore the internal landscape’s “conference of voices” with a passion for language as human realization. In “The Museum of Improvisation,” physical and mental worlds, experience and processing, dynamically scatter and connect. Inevitable and seamless in their experimental logic, the words flow in prose blocks: “Intersecting beams of knowledge, prepared on a tremble, have frozen me solid. It is market day come round once more.” Sometimes, as in “Wallflower (Ballads of the Alone 3),” the words arrive out of numerous sources (referenced in notes) to “a man alone in a reinforced cage / collaging quotes and screams.” Even here, something (“community of enlightenment / cosmic tunes and heavy tax”) coheres, with a single mind and heart behind it.

    The third of these books, New Selected Poems, gathers much of John Matthias’ work from several decades into an atlas of intellect and emotion. In various stanza forms, the poems range from short-lined lyrics bitten down to essential hard edges (“Break it (having/ buckled) with a fist.”) to sweeping long-lined narratives as in, for example, “She Maps Iraq.”  The central point of Matthias’ geography is clearly the American Midwest, where he was born. Its culture and climate—the Amish at the Farmer’s Market and a low, stagnant river in “heavy, muggy August”—make lush appearances in these poems, alongside ghosts of its once possible futures. Together with “recent graves,” “glacial / memories of mastodon & mammoth” mark the landscape, which also includes territories explored by Marquette, Joliet and LaSalle as well as loss of indigenous populations: “The Iroquois trail and the Sauk / widened to accommodate the marching of militias—.”   

   Overlaid on Matthias’ maps of history and travel is a network of literary landmarks: “Boxed by Thomas Mann into a magic square,” Hemingway’s suicide announced in a Dutch newspaper, “Paul Verlaine in Lincolnshire,” Brecht “fleeing just ahead / of the Gestapo, / making for L.A. by way of Finland” and Pushkin “whispering your future is your past.” Coordinates also denote locations where family members intersect certain books that serve as emblem and focus for relationship: his grandfather’s Emerson, Tennyson and Milton, his mother’s Webster, his mother’s voice reading Stevenson or perhaps Scott, and his own description of William Carlos Williams’ variable foot in a letter to his not yet born grandson. 

   Matthias’ act of mapping brings much discovery: “To map, to classify. And that these two endeavors / are the same. Or similar.” On this insatiable journey, there is reasoned exuberance: “The world looks almost to have invited us.”



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