An imaginative, atmospheric follow-up to James’ poetry collection Raison d’etre, I (2014).
The compilation opens with a request that readers “read these pages alone / in a quiet place / just a few at a time,” and the dreamy and impressionistic texts that follow do indeed lend themselves to slow perusal. The poems rely on a distinctly mythic tone, and seem to gesture toward ancient, earthy influences from Arthurian legend to samurai tradition. There’s little in the way of narrative here; James focuses instead on evocative imagery addressing themes of wildness and civilization, strangeness and familiarity. One typical stanza reads: “how bright is / the midnight sun / when a stranger can never see.” Such broadly painted musings are thought-provoking when read, as James recommends, a few at a time. If one reads more than a handful at once, however, they start to sound and feel identical, with stock descriptions such as “moon / to mountain / and sea to stars” blending into each other. The book’s stirring third section, “this planet of wind and rain,” is an exception; it tells of an unnamed explorer’s discoveries in a foreign land, and feels more grounded in literary tradition and excitingly original. In it, the narrator leads readers through encounters with “short-toothed saks / that sit and stare” and “the crystalline waters / of endaline bay.” These lively poems make others feel a bit staid in comparison, but there are moments of surprise and insight throughout: “think / and be called wise / but this is not the way— / journeys begin / when paths fall away.” Readers looking for free-form explorations will find enjoyable ones here, as the author conjures an alluring atmosphere.
A collection that’s repetitive and vague at times, but bolstered by vivid imagery and compelling invitations to contemplation.