Friday, May 09, 2008

Micro Review: Genius Loci

Over the last two years, my writer's mind has been so attuned to creative nonfiction that the poetry bug, mostly, hasn't been there. And though I've read more than a dozen books of poetry this year, and written some poems that are ready to fly, I haven't had the drive to write poetry, the kind of fevered pitch that occurs when the mind and body become more of a channel than an instigator.

When I'm in that zone, though, every book of poetry I read, it seems, spurs new poetry ideas of my own. Maybe that's why so many readers of poetry are writers of poetry: it's art that propels more art. So I'm excited to report that in my recent flurry of reading poetry books, it's the latest--Alison Hawthorne Deming's Genius Loci (Penguin, 2005)--that has pushed me into the zone. Not long after I settled into the first section, I had my notebook in hand, scratching out ideas for poems.

That's a sure sign that I like the poetry in the collection, and I must say that Genius Loci is one of my favorite recent collections. Not only are the poems filled with reverence for natural and human communities and a certain Earthly wisdom, but they are rich narratives full of stunning imagery, allusion, and metaphor. Take the first three stanzas of "Biophilia," for example:

On the day I found the snakemouth orchids,
little explosions of organic joy,
blooming in the spaghnum bog, you were walking

a thousand miles away and found a half-grown
gopher tortoise, head collapsed on dozer-paws,
asleep beside the trail. No dreams to dream,

you wrote, just evolved too soon. And there it lay
in the awful smolder of wildfire and
summer heat, waiting for its mind to change.

Surprisingly, perhaps, I found myself drawn more to the longer poems in the collection, like "The Yaak," "Under the Influence of Ironwoods," "Short Treatise on Birds," "The Charting" (perhaps my favorite in the collection), and "Wild Fruit." It's surprising because I have a hard time writing longer poems; feel like I don't have the attention span, patience, or artistic planning capacity for it. All three, likely.

And yet Deming's poems make me want to stretch myself in that way, to in effect scribe "every longing that ever led you / where you needed to go in spite of your best intensions," as "Biophilia" suggests near its brilliant ending.

Genius Loci--meaning "a guardian spirit," a deep sense of place--is just right for stretching my spirit; and yours too, I'd wager.

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