Strange Arts & Visual Delights
For the most part, Joanie McLean’s Every Single Thing (Wayfarer Books, 2021) touches on human and social relationships through absence and loss.
A fine example is “Do You Know,” a poem addressing a dead friend who threw an annual Christmas party for the whole town. In the friend’s absence, the town carries on the tradition. As the poet carries the “little boy” of the dead friend through the crowd, she asks her friend:
Could you see how everyone’s
that shift around the eyes,
the inhale—as they realized
whom I held.
The poet poses other questions to the dead friend, none ending in question marks, perhaps a signal that the questions are rhetorical: no response is expected, beyond the sharper sense of absence elicited by the question.
Every Single Thing describes an aging and somewhat lonely existence—the loneliness partly a result of life events, partly a result of choices made. The communion with trees and animals is not shared with a larger human community. But a life so richly rooted in the life of field, stable, wood, and creek, is not bleak.
For more on Joanie’s poetry, please consult her website (https://www.joaniemclean.com/).
The poet alone speaking loud enough for others to overhear—this is the rhetorical situation of much modern lyric poetry since the Romantics. Reading Horace’s odes does not give me the same feeling. Though he lives on his farm in cultivated retirement, there are invitations, parties, poems of advice, descriptions of public events and shared historical experience. From my casual reading of his odes in translation, he is far from being “an ineffectual angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain,” as Matthew Arnold described Shelley.
In my own poetry, at times I have tried to write from a communal perspective, with mixed results at best. This is a topic I hope to return to in future posts.