Friday, February 5, 2010

Peter Dent - Breaking Shadows

When someone sends a tiny book, especially a tiny poetry book, out into the world, I imagine they have to wonder: will this even make one ripple in the pond and, if so, will that ripple reach the pond's edge? I have many books in my house and, since I've been editing a poetry magazine that specializes in poems ten lines or less for the last 20 years, a lot of those books are small, some very tiny, indeed.

Peter Dent's Breaking Shadows has traveled all over my house, from 1st floor to 2nd, from the second to my working garret, and back down and up again at least a few times. Where this book actually came from I can only guess and my best guess is Ronald Moran. For some reason I associate him with Juniper Press, the publisher of Breaking Shadows. Ronald sent me a couple of batches of very small books a number of years back and, so, I am connecting the dots here. I could be wrong, but there you go.

Wherever this diminutive little book came from, it is a little beauty. It is #12 of a haiku/short poems series entitled "Chickadees," as you may note from the above Juniper Press link. It is approx. 3.75 x 4", handset, and hand-sewn and contains 16 very small poems. The very first poem sends a message: read slowly, very, very slowly.

To the possible
Be at home. Home's lights
Its cobwebs nothings
Linking here to there

This is a poem in which pausing at the end of every line is critical. In fact, in a number of instances, I forced myself to pause after each word to find the sense via the rhythm. For me, pausing after "lights", "cobwebs", "nothings", and maybe even"Linking" help me get at the essence of the poem. One could make a case - for instance after "here" - to pausing in different places. In any case that you might make, slowing down is of paramount importance. The next poem is similar:

Still life --More still the word
The cloud puts down its crows
By water waits as if
There's something left to do

Why hasn't the poet provided punctuation? Is punctuation necessary in so short a poem? If not, why not? Is the lack of punctuation part of the point?

I'm in an asking questions not supplying answers mode today. Some cop out, eh? But actually, this is how this book should be read. It is about the interaction of the poem and the reader. The poem doesn't bring the meaning: the reader does.

Still, for me, these poems intrigue, deeply. Here's a real beaut:

Full Moon
By which to write -But nothing
Nothing's great sails filling
Wonder words the book of
Heaven --Steady as she goes

Again the reader makes decisions, reading decisions. The poet is engaging his audience; here, you do some work for a bit. Thanks. Think that one lovely? Try this:

In silt and shadow
The Autumn
Of an endless stream

The poet is in a giving mood, his line breaks providing all the punctuation you need. Robinson Jeffers might love this poem; no frigging people to muck things up (Heisenberg might disagree, but this is a poetry blog, not a physics paper). This poem slows your ass down. How much more beautiful can something get? Now let's turn to syntax, artfully shaped into revelation:

Empty after
It's emptied out
A day we couldn't
Still can't bear

Here's sacrilege - it doesn't matter what this poem is about. It strikes deep, it strikes hard, and it is incessant. The shifting from past to present in the space of one word - "couldn't" to "Still", to a possible endless future forces the reader to confront the essence of something that cannot be borne. It is one thing to say it, quite another to live it. It doesn't matter if it is a place, a concept, a person that is emptied out, whatever, it is emptied out and it is unbearable.

All in 12 short, plainspoken words. So much power, so much devastation.

I can't end it here, not on this note. I need some solace, albeit it minimum, some guidance, some instruction:

After Ryo-nen
Sixty-six Autumns
Of moonlight I've said enough
Ask no more - Listen
To what the pine and cedar
Say when no wind stirs

Leave it right there, we can't hope for more: there is none. A tiny little booklet, full of revelation. It's time for me to pay better attention, before there is no more attention to pay.


Click to enlarge

This week's feature broadside is Lilliput issue #130, entitled Fish Ladder: 19 Tanka by Miriam Sagan. Miriam is one of the finest small press poets we have; her work is direct, engaging, and emotional, with the deep clarity of a cool spring stream. I've been reading her work in the "littles" for over 25 years and simply can't get enough. Here is a sample from Fish Ladder:

Through the fish window
we saw the silver salmon
swim up the ladders
of the damn, and thought
suddenly of our lives

How surprising-
that it could still startle me,
blood on the sheets
after I was
forty-five years old

Canada geese
along the canal
their long black necks
writing a calligraphy—
no ink, no brush

She says she once
saw tigers mating, early
in the morning
at the zoo—
why did she tell me this?

Rain forest,
underside of the fern leaf
more spores
than the cities on earth
cells in my palm

The final word(s):

at the gate
a palm-sized rice field too
has greened
translated by David G. Lanoue



Charles Gramlich said...

I have my own small book, "wanting the mouth of a lover." It practicaly disappears among the others but I'm exceptionally pleased with it nonetheless.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Indeed, Charles - and here it is.

William A. Sigler said...

Slowing things down, yes, for closer scrutiny, for breathing, but to me what makes these tiny poems heartbreaking is their internal dynamism--the lines move as the clouds, sails, trout, water, pine and cedar even when there is no wind, do, without letting us capture what was there. We stop, but the world does not. The shadow breaks but does not open for us, it simply moves to another enigmatic outlook.

In this one:

Empty after
It's emptied out
A day we couldn't
Still can't bear

it reads as day turning to night (or day(light) lacking meaning even after being understood)--but we are strangers to the whole process, we can't absorb it. I like the way this one captures the movement of the human within the weave of nature's movement--"couldn't/still can't"--it's a recalibrating around the void.

"Leaving ripples," poetry. It needs no human eye to imagine the touch of God.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

William, thanks for the well-considered thoughts - I'm wondering if that internal dynamism is exactly what is dictating me to slow it down ...

In Empty after ... I felt the slip was from some past time to the present, some feeling so deep its power is undiminished weeks months or years later ...

Dynamic little poetry like this ... I live for it. Thanks again.