BY CHARLES RAMMELKAMP
Author: Kelly Cherry
2013, Louisiana State University Press
Filed Under: Poetry
Dedicated “For my students, then and now,” Kelly Cherry’s new collection, the 2013 L.E. Phillabaum Poetry Award winner, The Life and Death of Poetry, is indeed in the lofty tradition of Ars Poetica, The Art of Poetry, or The Nature of Poetry, instructions and reflections from a master of the art. Cherry writes with authority, and her deep philosophical involvement in the subject saturates the pages. The reader feels from her tone that her audience of students (all of us) is squarely in mind.
This elegant collection consists of three parts, the first, “Learning the Language,” a sequence of meditations on poetry, the language, the rhythm, the speech, the voice, the sounds that precede the speech and the thought that comes before the voice. Without being didactic Cherry conveys her thoughts on the origins of poetry in human consciousness and how it ennobles human existence. Indeed, she begins at the very beginning. Take the second poem of the collection, a sonnet entitled “A Sunday in Scotland.”
I found a path that led me through the wood,
past fallen stone – a Roman wall in ruin –
and some felled trees, to where two horses stood
at pasture, and the nearest, a graceful roan,
drew close, and backed away again, and then
came partway back, and then decided to get on
with his own life in that field next to a fen.
I found a stump nearby – something to sit on
while catching my breath. Just to my right, a field
of poppies, post-impressionistically
spattered. The sky was gray. The church bells pealed,
and I was thinking how it would be, to be
on earth as a horse or dog or cat or bird
or tree or flower, self-consciousness deferred.
I love that “poppies post-impressionistically spattered,” but the point is that poetry is human, a self-conscious creation. The rest of “Creation,” or “Nature” is simply “the thing itself.” A sequence of poems involving animals in a field follows, with wonderful imagery that places them in speech and writing (from “Field Notes”: A shrew “with a tail as long as a tirade”; from “Seen but Not Heard”: “and trapped things pray/sotto voce.” From “A Blue Jay in the Snow”: “A blue jay in the snow/is a text/that cannot be read/out of the context…”). And this entire poem: Continue reading