Everyone has a few, unforgettable first encounters with this or that poet. A few of these occasions come under the noblest circumstances (e.g. that instant you comprehended, in a flash, the whole Blakean cosmology). Others arrive in the “ig-noblest” moments (e.g. your PowerPoint project on Donne). But sometimes the latter are better; sometimes—yes, sometimes—the poverty of the circumstance enriches the reading.
Anyway, this is what I would like to think about my introduction to D. S. Martin’s second volume of poems, Poiema, and Sally Rosen Kindred’s debut, No Eden. On that day, that coldest spring day, I locked myself outside my own house—nothing to warm me but the postbox.
Martin and Kindred’s books looked up at me comfortingly from their manila mailers like letters of consolation. It would be two hours until my wife got home; jumping jacks and poetics found their awkward marriage. But after a half-hour into these texts, I hardly noticed the chill.
Martin's work speaks for that shared, quiet style of our greatest Canadian poets: those who, living on the edge of the named, write on the verge of the nameable. In Poiema Martin is clearly writing in the meditative tradition (Part Six of this volume is, after all, a series of "Meditations"), but his aesthetic is notably more heterogeneous and surprising, owning Galway Kinnell's dream-aura, Mary Oliver's attentiveness, and something like that mystical approach to lineation found in Denise Levertov's "organic form."
If Li-Young Lee was right about the "noisiness" of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poiema provides a remarkable counterbalance: a distinctly modern austerity that still insists on the inscape of things. One of his most notable tricks is the omission of punctuation. But this is no Merwinian language of material flux and deep ecology; instead, it is simply his delight in words. Too, we notice the natural caesuras created by extra space in and around text that deserve the emphasis. It is a kind of minimalism that, if it can be imagined, registers baroquely.
This volume is contemplative yet accessible, novel yet meticulous, serious yet full of levity. Whether it is hands, the wind, or his portrait of a Chinese Evangelist, Martin treats each of his subjects carefully and compellingly (even reverently), all of it reminding us that “we are His workmanship His poem / & yet are oblivious to so much.”
Turning to Kindred took a few moments of acclimation, since, stylistically, she is up to something incomparable with Martin. But once I was in, I was in. Though as a single collection No Eden is nothing novelistic (certainly no “novel-in-verse”), it still reads something like the kunstlerroman: the story of the developing artist.
Many of these poems are preoccupied with youth and memory, and they cover everything from a puzzled prophet to a wasp-wasted dog to the beautiful neighbor “Mrs. Snead.” Together, as an episodic whole, they form a dazzling study of life. There are few poets who shake up the kaleidoscope of my mundane perspective, freshening everything gloriously. But Sally Rosen Kindred is such an artist.
Metrically and structurally speaking, Kindred is not traditional per se, but there is a keen orderliness and intentionality guiding the line. The tercet form appears to be a favorite of hers, and, whether or not she is chiefly drawn by its spiritual significance and simplicity, she employs it skillfully (“To Noah,” “Earth Science,” and “Legacy” being a few of the best). More impressive than her mechanics are Kindred’s sound-scapes. They sing without ringing sing-song—read sweetly without the saccharine. Just one example of this comes from the last lines of the title piece, “No Eden”: “Pear of bitter thirst, pear / / of the beloved lips of dusk, / turn your cheek to me. / You are what I remember.” Kindred’s depiction of the fruit’s consumption is charged with bilabial consonants which require both lips to articulate their p and b sounds; that is to say, in speaking the pear, the reader also tastes it.
Then there are the remarkable resonances made between objects through assonance: “bitter” and “lips,” for example, share the same vowel sound, reminding us of the connection between the senses and the sensed. These little details are everywhere, and they are poetry at its best. Indeed, when the poet has truly learned to listen, he or she grasps this demonstrated potential on the atomic level.
Our hats are off to Martin and Kindred, for these collections are hardly the sophomore slump or freshman folio: in subject, scope, and imagination, Poiema and No Eden mark careers of mature and alluring craft. The electric elocution, crystalline imagery, and intelligent deliberations all point to arrival as artists. We look forward to the next installments. D. S. Martin, Poiema(Wipf & Stock, 2008) Sally Rosen Kindred, No Eden (Mayapple Press, 2011)
Josh Mayo lives with his wife Bethany in Oxford, Mississippi, and is currently studying transcendentalism and American poetry at UM. Writing both creatively and critically, his most recent work has been published in The Penwood Review and The Englewood Review of Books.
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February 17, 2017
Josh, this is a remarkable review—even aside from your discussion of Martin and Kindred’s work. We do not transcend creature comforts easily—as readers or otherwise—so I love the frame of your reading. What a cold gift, those hours!
I also think “sweetly without the saccharine” is the perfect observation for both a reader and a writer, particularly when it comes to a discussion of poetry intersecting with faith themes. Jesus wasn’t maudlin, but the temptation is ever there for writers…