In this exceptional new collection, acclaimed poet Mary Kinzie opens her attention to the landscapes of the earth. Her poems of richly varied line lengths develop phrases at the syncopated pace of the observing mind: “Slag and synthesis and traveling fire / so many ways the groundwaves of distortion / pulse / through bedrock traffic and the carbon chain” she writes in the opening poem, “The Water-brooks.” Here, and throughout, her reflection on the natural world embraces the damages of time to which we can bear only partial witness but to which the human memory is bound.
In the collection’s title poem, Kinzie goes on to explore her own romantic griefs alongside the adventures of T. S. Eliot, “inadvertently working on a suntan” as he tours the desert in the roadster of his American girlfriend, whose heart he will break. Kinzie’s conviction that sorrow, too, is a form of passion allows her to lift poems from shattered thoughts and long-ago losses, at times blending prose and verse in a combustible mixture.
Determined not to prettify but still expressing fresh wonder at the beauty we stumble across in spite of our shortcomings, Kinzie delivers her bravest work yet in these new poems.
O God invisible as air
My tears have been my meat
because no noxious thing runs with themonly
fragrant naïveté of the reflective midday when
bank herb and wood flower and water from the pool
can best be gathered
also the knowledge
that these gifts are tenuous and that the mouth
and the harp
might soon be strange to play
Kinzie's strong opinions, fierce emotions and serious attention both to visual details and to philosophical claims have won attention both for her poetry (Drift) and ambitiously minatory literary criticism (The Judge Is Fury). Readers familiar with her devotion to poems as decisive wholes may be surprised by the ways her new poems look and feel like constellations of fragments, phrases and sentences scattered all over a big, wide, airy page. Yet, the mood can be grim: the titular sequence makes a star, and a tragic figure, out of Emily Hale, T.S. Eliot's friend and correspondent, who may, or may not, have waited decades for a marriage proposal from Ol' Possum that never came. Another sequence, "The Poems I Am Not Writing," incorporates some verse and lots of prose: "Poems have entered my being," Kinzie confesses, "only after a stupor of watching" a life imagined as a mineral ore, all "hard and serious." Crisp and harsh, full of self-accusation, remembering "wistful hours/ of self-righteous/ need," Kinzie's collection has few unambiguous joys; it offers, instead, the pleasures of attention, of a writer willing to smash her poems to smithereens and then rebuild them as she attempts to meet her own stringent demands.