Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Paisley Rekdal, _Animal Eye_

FUNNY THING, GIVEN Paisley Rekdal's age and background, but as I read this book I kept thinking of Seamus Heaney.

Consider the opening of "Ballard Locks":

Air-struck, wound-gilled, ladder
      upon ladder of them thrashing
through froth, herds of us climb
     the cement stair to watch
this annual plunge back to dying, spawn;
     so much twisted light
the whole tank seethes in a welter of bubbles: [...]

Note the virtuoso command of syntax, the compound-adjectives, the scrutiny of wildlife--the wildlife in Animal Eye is often so turbulent and sharp-toothed as to be more that of Ted Hughes than that of Heaney, but nevertheless we're out there where the plants and animals are, as Heaney so often was.

Something about the play of the consonants puts me in mind of Heaney, too, in the above lines or here:

[...] like a spray of feathers from the bird
that has begun feasting now on the apples
in a corner of the orchard. Its dark head darts
into the branches for the fruit before the bird rises
again, flies off, its wings shuddering their streaks of blue
that fade into the darkness.

As in Heaney, we hear the rhythm of that old accentual-syllabic music:

[...] otherwise how would the green
     or red or blue body fly,
how hover like the compass point
     over the hyssop's

sweet stamens?

That's from "Dragonfly," which you ought to find just so that you can read it aloud.

Sometimes I thought, "this is darker than Heaney," but Heaney could get dark, as in "Punishment," with its fatal triangle of young adulteress, murderous crowd, and poet-observer-voyeur, its mobile identifications; and oddly enough, one of the more striking poems here, "Yes," has its own triangle, its own take on adultery and punishment, its own mobile points of view.

Of the two long poems here, "Wax" seems, in its conjunction of art and illness, more Mark Doty circa My Alexandria than Heaney, but the versatile and inventive modernization of terza rima and honest self-appraisal of "Easter in Lisbon" took me right back to Station Island.

I re-read some Heaney when he died a while back, but I don't know that I have looked at him again since. But I should.  This whole book somehow served to remind me vividly how much I loved his work. Probably not at all what Rekdal had in mind, but I feel as though she has done me an important favor.

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