Friday, May 27, 2011

Russell Libby: Moments

You can find Russell Libby's work around; there is this little gem, published online by the Poetry Foundation (who kindly supply a brief bio of the poet), and which puts me, neither mathematician, scientist, or farmer, in mind of one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.  Though I love my Sherlock Holmes, I must say that I like the resolution of Libby's "Applied Geometry" much better than Conan Doyle's.  Think heart over head, if you will.

It seems Ted Kooser would agree; he chose to feature the same poem on "American Life in Poetry."

I know Russell primarily through the magazine I edit, Lilliput Review, and his work that I've published there. In addition, he was the winner of an impromptu New Year's Haiku/Tanka challenge here at the Hut.   Everything comes from Three Sisters Farm, his address, and his descriptions of nature and the world about him have always had great appeal for me.

Awhile back, probably longer than I care to think (so as to avoid embarrassing myself in public intentionally),  Russell sent me off a modest little chapbook of his work with the simple title Moments.  I kept it nearby my desk, in a chaotic work area where things tend to alternately sink and surface, and sink and surface again.  I'd dipped into his book a few times and nothing grabbed me strongly enough to continue at any given off moment.  This is hardly surprising, however, given my USA Today/haiku attention span.  One day, though, I got some purchase, cleared some room, made myself comfortable, and took in the whole work. And I enjoyed it very much.

I figured out pretty quickly why it hadn't connected with me initially.  Most of the work literally captures a  moment and, as in classical haiku, those moments are strictly portrayed, with very little, if any, judgment, resolution, or speculation.

Seems I lean a little toward if not resolution or satori at least the suggestion of same.

Sometimes I think I'm in the wrong business ... not attentive enough, not informed enough, not calm enough etc.  This, I'm thinking, is one of those times because there is some fine, fine work here, indeed.

If ever there was a moment, here it is, from "Last day in June":

Heron tracks visible
Two feet below
The clear-flowing stream water

This is one of 4 such moments in the day listed in the collective title "Last of day" June.  Here is a separate, untitled poem:

Just as the Inuit have many words for snow,
in some forgotten language
there is a word for the sound of the south wind
as it pushes across the tops of the ashes
and catches in the pine trees just beyond.

If there isn't, this definition will do very nicely until someone, somewhere conjures one up.  A definition without a word; now that's right up my alley.

Here is the final section of a five part poem entitled "Western Bay":

Sound carries so easily
over still water;
important fact to remember.

Another stand alone piece, one I am mighty jealous of follows, concerning a kestrel and a mouse.  I'll tell you why after you read it:

Kestrel flies towards the woods,
long-tailed mouse in its talons,
the tail straight out
under the rapidly-beating wings.

I've been trying to capture a similar moment I witnessed, with a crow and a mouse, over a year ago and have never quite gotten it.  The moment has one distinctly different feature, which is what I've been after all these months, but I'm jealous that Libby got his ("the tail straight out" is it).

Here is section 2 from a poem of  9 sections entitled "On McGaffey":

Face pushing through
spider web.
How many times
each life
the unexpected.

This really has the feel of a modern dilemma; I know I've thought it or something very close to it.  How many times the unexpected, how many times the unexplained?

Section 4 from the same poem:

a tiny white
bird's egg-
shell dissolves
as I

Another moment, without judgment or even speculation.  Just a moment, this moment, now.

Finally, one brief poem:

Raking leaves into piles
Hawkweed and heal-all
Blooming beneath

Notice the present tense, notice the lack of ending punctuation, something Libby does more frequently with brief poems than longer ones, but something that may have some significance.  For me, this moment, which is now, is continuous - will the hawkweed and the heal-all bloom through the leaves? 

Will the wind have its say?

What the poet has done here, particularly with the shorter pieces, is what the classic haiku poet did (& does): presents the reader with the moment and says, here, this is it, do what you will with it.

The egg-shell, the spider web, the mouse's tail, heron tracks, sound in the trees and over water, buried plants blooming, blooming.

Will you ignore the moment, or not see it at all?

This is fine collection of moments.  The many poems I've excerpted contain other, related moments from the same time, or contiguous with them.  There is a calmness at their center, bound together as it is via the consciousness of the perceiver, the poet. 

Lucky we are to have a poet who pays particular attention.    Mail him $4 and you can get 36 pages of wonder, many of which have more than one poem.  Payment to Russell Libby, 53 Weston Road, Mount Vernon, ME  04352.


This week's feature poem comes from Lilliput Review #156, March 2007, and seems to be appropriate today, considering the proliferation of natural disasters over the last few months. 

From a wryer perspective, this one also goes out to all the end-gamers who were disappointed in the lack of revelation this past weekend.

Laura Gulli explains it a lot better than me.  So here she is.

    prayer for uncertainty
glory be to the incessant
to the obsessive
and to the irreverent
as it may have been in the beginning
is now
and ever shall be
or not
compassion without end
Laura Gulli

taking turns
with the prayer gong...
mountain cuckoo
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS Really happy I got through the whole post and didn't mention the other thing. 

Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature.  Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 103 songs


Charles Gramlich said...

I can see those Heron tracks now. Lovely.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Beauty, thanks, Charles.

Theresa Williams said...

Great post, Don. I love the insight about the Inuit/snow/wind/ashes. It's funny about how poems sometimes catch us, other times not. That's proof of how much we change, minute by minute. Your modesty is refreshing. No one knows everything, each of us is in the moment and we learn as we go along. The bravery is in the persistence. I love this blog.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks very, very much Theresa. It means a lot. There are lots of folks who read, few who comment so the feedback lifts me up!

Theresa Williams said...