Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Poet du Jour: Alex Grant

I'm sure I would praise this collection even if it hadn't been published by my own publisher, Wind Publications. But I'm glad that it was published by my publisher as I'm enormously proud to share shelf space with this poet. This is a sophisticated collection, all the more impressively so when we consider that this is Grant's first full-length collection. Perhaps, though, the level of sophistication and the beauty of Fear of Moving Water should come as no surprise as Grant is well-published and has had two award-winning chapbooks as well as numerous other awards.

The collection consists of 39 poems divided into four sections, each preceded by a prose poem which serves as a prologue. There's not an ounce of fat in the collection, not one poem that I wish had been removed, not one space where something seems to be missing. This quality of tightness is also found in the poems.

There is much to admire here. First, there's an appealing range of subject matter. Clearly, Grant is attracted to the animal world. We find the poems populated with turtles, beavers, a mouse, an old dog, a cuckoo. Even the small ugly things of this earth merit his attention—the cockroach, the garden midge, the spider. Grant is also drawn to other forms of art. There are poems based on photos and paintings as well as poems about artists such as Van Gogh, actress Lillian Gish, haiku master Issa. The collection is subtly sprinkled with literary allusions to such people as Neruda, Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. Several poems reveal a fondness for the culinary arts, for example, "Hamish Samey's Turnip Soup."

Then there's the pure poetry of these poems. Here's a poet who luxuriates in language, who has a talent for the odd word, the just-right word, and an ear for the music of the words. Listen to the lovely ell-sounds in "Black Moon": ". . . the dry doggerel / of mackerel scales and filament // of a season ended, to the water. / The sand flays the last flakes / of paint from the boat's hull . . ." Note, too, the a-sounds. Here's another example of Grant's diction and musicality, this one from "Fuel": "We spend the morning burning / oleander brush. Shards of sunlight / slash the canopy, cleave pathways // through pungent smoke-shrouds, // fuel clumps of emerald sphagnum."

Grant's mastery of craft is also seen in his use of imagery and figurative language. Note the sensory appeal in this triple simile from "Neruda's Suicide Note": ". . . you cover / your face with your hand, / and it sticks to your skin / like confetti, like phosphorus / launched from a Greek warship, / like the skin of a plum / peeled by a broken nail." While most of the poems are, like this one, written in free verse, there is a formal elegance to them. And Grant makes a nod to formalism in the collection's five sonnets, a villanelle, and a solo renga.

Here are two poems from the collection which represent it nicely and which should whet your appetite for the entire collection.


'Behind every jewel stand three hundred sweating horses'
—Zen Buddhist aphorism

Believers in invisibility, we describe the sound
that nothing makes. At night, we hear the stars
move across the sky, listen to the moon-vine

grow, wait for the engines of the sun to crack
the morning. The clacking wheels of desire
lead us to this - this endless fascination, this

capturing of fog in a bottle. We need to inhale
it, to learn its given name, to feel it compress
under the skin and emerge through the pores,

an invisible diamond inside a painted nutshell,
held tight in the breath of our hands. We pry
the shell apart, clamp the empty geodes to our

ears, like seashore children straining to hear
the wedding of the oceans in a paper cup,
and listen to the sound that nothing makes.

And here's one that's as frightening as it is lovely.


In the beginning, they were insignificant—like black
spider mites, or immature fruit flies. We were blind
to their subtle swelling, their shifting shapes

and colors, suddenly lurid green, slick and shiny
as obscene bottles. The years turned like a mill wheel,
and we retreated deeper into the belly of the house,

and few could recall a time when the steady hum
of their wings didn't thicken the air. One of us will
sometimes foray into their part of the house—always,

the reports are worse than the time before—they have
become cannibals: they devise new methods of torture:
their young subsist on the bodies of spiders.

And they grow—always—stronger, more ruthless,
We have lived so long in this part of the house,
where no light penetrates, that our young have begun

to be born blind—sightless, parchment skin stretched
over useless orbs, like unfinished paintings. Some
who remember when we lived outside of the house,

in the trees, in the fields and hedgerows, say that
our time will come again. They say that one day,
we will look up at the moon again, from high

in the wet branches of Sycamore trees,
and see the earth, so far below, and swing,
once again, on lengths of radiant silk.

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