the deering hour by Karen Elizabeth Bishop

the deering hour cover

By Greg Bem

confession is built mouth
to open mouth until water

(from “honeyhive,” page 3)

In the deering hour, there is buried between an awesome and ecstatic lyric poetry is a timely poetics of isolation and survival capable of carrying a pandemic readership toward honest, patient movement. the deering hour is a book that feels as crafted by quarantine and introspective society as it feels a conduit for the ever-expansive world just beyond our walls. Throughout, Karen Elizabeth Bishop follows many veins, many threads, and finds her own natural space for foraging the wispy peripheries of a breathing world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first, of which the book’s title comes, is “the deering hour.” This sequence is a welcome beacon and blueprint in this cagey global moment, filled with discoveries and dances, flirtations and flashes that are utterly American in their experimentation, but also feel spread across space and time and culture.

as she falls we all fall hers is the history of
flight the future of lyric the winter of our ash

(from “the history of flight,” page 34)

Collective and personal, the general appeal of “the deering hour” as a section and as a book is the feeling of roots, of being bound as reader (through writer) to the primal or ancient. Ecologically, the verse often flutters through natural imagery and a spirited presence takes shape by way of the world’s many forms and their relationships. Even when poems concern movement, either forward or backward, inward or outward, there is a slow and mature consideration within the poem’s subtext; a peaceful tone of ritual, of intention lingers.

[. . .] here the surface
does not hold. where the final
hanging on comes to a close,
wea are sound receding in
waves, four hearts quiet
ascending, the light at the
border dark increasing [. . .]

(from “the deering hour,” page 13)

Poems vary in size and shape, but there is a propulsion to most of them. This rush within Bishop’s work can be thanked to the poems’ elemental foundations. Water upon stone, for example, is one of the most prevalent carriers of energy and ideas within the deering hour, and its emblematic presence demonstrates the timeliness of water’s power. It is also, in Bishop’s writing, reflective of a more sacred, finite resource. Ecology and the flight of the world that surrounds us may feel overwhelming in reality, but in the book we see transformation as humbling. This is a tempered and tempering volume that keeps reality in a perspective somewhere between balancing and revealing.

Following “the deering hour” is “Kilpisjärvi,” a shorter sequence that takes its name from a village in Northern Finland, where Bishop recently visited and stayed as a resident at the “Biological Station.” Unfortunately we do not know too much more than that, as a fuller description of this place is missing. Still, the mysterious presence and existence of this place lends itself to the writing Bishop does include.

While at first glance this second, closing sequence feels thrown at the end of the book as an addendum or “extra,” a deeper read reveals Bishop’s cunning: the prose and verse here demonstrates an example of source material, where the work and the mindset of “the deering hour” stem. Reading it reminded me of the works of Craig Childs and Terry Tempest Williams, who have sought the truth by being embedded by place and experience, by living through relationships and convictions: “We watch from the shore of the moraine as the future recedes,” Bishop writes in part IV (page 59) and: “Under cover, we speak in surprises, measure the fell in objects and action” she writes in part IX (page 72) are examples of Bishop’s relational journaling.

Near the beginning of “Kilpisjärvi,” Bishop writes, “I don’t need to get to the end to know I’m already living my future” (page 54). This is the illumination that rounds out a poetics of the pandemic so well. It is new and yet established, emerging yet defined. But the illumination can occasionally be too bright; aside from serving us with this well-rounded close, some of the book’s moments cascade into realms of twist and obscurity:

you didn’t say if you gave over, a last present
amidst our famine, or if you sought the wild
wasting of our white nights, the pleading scar,
fingers in the welt, the searing blightburn. [. . .]

(from “inflorescence,” page 15)

There is a play with abstraction that occasionally feels maddening in its confusion and disconnection, but it is ever-so-present and just barely heavy enough to be problematic. Instead, I took the abstraction to be an element of introduction and arrival, Bishop’s writing beginning its dance across a longer form of time. Overall, Bishop’s the deering hour is an enduring book of juxtaposition the succeeds in bringing two ends of experience together at once.

You can find the book here: https://www.ornithopterpress.com/store/p15/the_deering_hour.html

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com

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