Don Thompson

This Is Not Your Moon by Matthew Woodman

moon wood
.
By Don Thompson
.
It takes nerve in the 21st century to write poetry about the moon—that or a puckish sense of humor.  Or both in Matthew Woodman’s case, whose This Is Not Your Moon, takes the ancient trope seriously while giving us an occasional wink and nudge.
.
And despite the moonglow, these are poems of intellect rather than emotion—not categorically, but in emphasis: that is, the mind controls; it masks the emotions and provides ironic distancing from intense feelings—a distance as far as the moon is from the heart:
.
                        Warning: Objects in the night sky are more
                        distant than they appear.
                                                                The same applies
                        to those you love.
.
Throughout, the language is alert to its own sound—not the flat affect of so much poetry these days, which seems so indifferent to how it says what it feels entitled to say.  Woodman even risks occasional Eliotic rhymes, one suspects for the fun of it:
 .
                        We bear the tension as long as we’re able.
                        Without the darkness
                                                            there is no fable.
.
Perhaps it’s the gravity of the moon that’s pulling him away from American plain style into an approach that by current standards is shamelessly stylized.  This is overdue.  Let’s confess that it’s no longer a sin to be openly intentional about diction—which will, of course, end in rococo followed by rediscovery of the vernacular.  And so it goes.  But for now, let’s enjoy more music and imagery with less blatant angst:
.
                        Somewhere the moon is bound with baling wire
.
                        We tend the garden with gasoline
.
                        The arroyo awash with polished thirst
.
This collection is filled with such lines that one enjoys for the sound, for the fresh images, and for that droll touch so typical of Woodman.  Another of his traits is a serious use of scientific terminology.
.
Most of it is above my pay grade, sending me to the dictionary (well, to Google anyhow) to work it all out.  Somewhat.  What matters here, however, is that Woodman handles it very deftly so that the jargon, if still intimidating, becomes eloquent rather than stilted.  For instance:
.
                        The selenographic coordinates
                        may be accurate, but the orthoclase
                        reveals your tendency to coalesce
                        stone and story, terra and tour.
.
In “The Way Out”, one of the most interesting poems, we have:
.
                                                Traverse the contiguous
                        gravity of exhaustion and paw
                        to reach the cradle of undisturbed gravel.
.
                        Get busy.  Get gone.
                                                             Ignore the craw
                        rending the descent ephemeral,
                        escalate the spawn.
                                                             Paint the world redd
                        and glutinous.
.
This effectively mixes levels of diction, and there’s a hanging curve ball that the punster in Woodman couldn’t resist, a “redd” being the gravel nest in which fish deposit their eggs.
.
One notices a kind of surrealistic feel, and yet such imagery doesn’t quite seem to emerge from the subconscious through free association.  Rather, it could well be encrypted, as if consciously shifted a few degrees from common sense—or scientific discourse.  This is merely an impression, but Woodman seems sly enough to do it intentionally.  “Keep your thoughts where I can see them,” he warns—but doesn’t do so himself.
.
                        Follow the magnetic confluence
                        of natal stream and anadromous chisel.
.
Could this be encryption?  Could we break the code?  To change the metaphor abruptly, we might be caught up in a thimblerig game with a straightforward meaning hidden under one of the nutshells.  Here are a couple more puzzlers:
.
                        There is no incandescent right of way
                        from which you have become estranged.
.
                        Our hearts a patchwork of scars
                        and skull-shaped aquariums swimming in stars.
.
Ultimately, whatever is going on, this is a book about the moon and therefore love has got to be under one of the nutshells.  Indeed, we do find allusions to a failing or failed relationship, but more ironic than confessional:
.
                        The shrapnel of eggshells ensconced even
                        here, on the kitchen counter
                         We can love only the things we can lose.
.
In “Salving the Tidewrack” Woodman provides instructions for “How to carve a driftwood lover”.  (Many of these poems are imperative or processes).  You must follow precise steps, even if now and then you have to “stifle the sobs” and
.
                                                Ensure your blade is sharp
                        enough to get to the heart of the crimes
                        you each will commit against the other.
.
So these are the poles that create the gravitational tension in Matthew Woodman’s poems: the actual satellite as subject of scientific study and the sneered-at but hardwired, almost inescapable timeless totem of—well, love: love and its losses, separation and death.  We have both intellect and heart constantly pulling at us until we seem two-faced:
.
                        Which face will you show to the moon?
.
You can find the book here: This Is Not Your Moon
.
Don Thompson has been publishing poetry for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks.  For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.

 

The Weight of Bodily Touches by Joseph Zaccardi

zaccardi_front_1799x

By Don Thompson

This is dark stuff.  The opening poem of Joseph Zaccardi’s new collection, The Weight of Bodily Touches, seems to be offered as a warning so that the tender-hearted might proceed no farther.  In “To Feast on the Flesh of Decay”, a farmer’s wife exhumes the bones of a miscarried baby to “suckle my loss” and then “eats the grave dust under her own nails”.  Some readers of this review will no doubt stop right here.

But I wonder about the source of such darkness.  Usually it’s a kind of posturing that intends to shock for its own sake—a variety of grand guignol.  But in these poems, it’s a genuine and almost compulsive response to the—well, horror that surrounds us.  Zaccardi looks closely at things most of us studiously ignore or see as social issues that provide an opportunity to do good from a distance. In these poems we witness human consciousness barely holding itself together in the face of suffering that just is.  No one to blame.  Not much to be done.

“The Sound the Tree Makes” turns out to be a scream and the answer to Bishop Berkeley’s question that even if no human hears it, the other trees do.  And this is only a tree—perhaps ridiculous if Zaccardi hadn’t given us such a vivid description of the tortures inflicted on logs in a lumber mill. When he focuses on human suffering in “ICU”,  we’re forced to see the awfulness of hospitals that we try to pretend isn’t there among the pastels and smooth jazz: “…a gurney casting chirps down a corridor…while IVs beep and air whistles from tap holes” and “a defibrillator delivers doses of electric current to undo a flatliner”.

In all this, Zaccardi exhibits a craftsman’s skill with the unpunctuated, run-on prose poem.  We are carried long by the ebb and flow of rhythms rather than bogged down in the usual unreadable clot.  This gives the poems tension—an odd exhilaration that runs counter to their grim subject matter.  And he does make an effort to reach some sort of quietness if not peace of mind in the final section, which shifts tone radically to pay homage to classical Chinese poetry.  But it’s too little too late to offset the preceding darkness.

And yet, like the spiders he writes about in “Circle and Alchemy”, his work is both “beautiful and hair-raising”.  Although their webs and our lives are fragile and tear apart easily, we “rebuild because there is so much left.”

You can find the book here: https://kelsaybooks.com/products/the-weight-of-bodily-touches

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks.  For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.

 

 

.