Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Elizabeth Robinson, blue heron

A bone cannot tell a bone’s story        nor a cave

a cave’s

this trinket of life of

having lived          spinning

on the unsanctioned air

overcome with its whiteness (“hibernaculum”)

American poet Elizabeth Robinson’s new trade poetry collection, blue heron (Fort Collins CO: Center for Literary Publishing, 2013) is a study in minimalism through seven sections-as-movements. Each section is constructed as a series of extended sequences, nearly as a single breath, akin to recent translations of French poet Claude Royet-Journaud for their shared use of expansive, white space and dense lyric lines reduced to beyond their bare elements. In each section, there are threads that turn and return, back into themselves for the possibilities of new discovery. “Here is where you were.” she writes, to open “the hinge trees,” as though she has boiled each lesson learned through the composition of all her previous trade poetry collections down to a sequence of phrases. Robinson’s blue heron is a book populated with real and mythological animals, from the lynx rufus (also known as the “bobcat”) to blue heron itself, to the sasquatch (to whom the book is dedicated, “who does exist”), and she explores facts, fictions and other tales to wrap around her own layers of bone. There are dark elements she writes of, in these natural habitats. As she writes at the openings of “cherimoya”:

The very notion of sweetness, what is sweetness, how does the flesh

cloy to its core, the buttery white flesh

of the tongue.

What is intriguing in this new collection is how the brevity expands the scope of the poems instead of reducing them, as though Robinson were crafting the empty space on the page as much as the placement and order of each word. The title sequence “blue heron,” the longest section of the collection, centres the book through presenting the most detailed description for the characters and creatures within. Writing “Ungainly bird, // the anguished— // the man—refuses the table where he rests,” this sequence-section also provides the largest word count, in a collection that stretches out at either end, writing: “Grim /// in its discrimination between // the lost and a version // of life, skimming, sparse, above its own weight.” Robinson’s blue heron is a book of questions written in and through sentences. As section “xvi” of the twenty-two section poem opens:

Daughter stumbles on the pavement,

and the skin is rubbed off
the mystery:

the eye beholds
through the shrubs,

and what it beholds
            the shadow contains.

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