PETROGLYPHS by Keith Harvey


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A rounded menagerie of naturalistic poems, many holding mythic resonance.

The first poetry collection from Harvey (Vogel and the White Bull, 2009, etc.) looks to nature and the past for an explanation of the perennial ways of man. Deadly serious and brimming with short, free-verse treatments of creation stories, whether of biblical, Egyptian or Shamanistic origin, these painterly poems present many suggestive scenes against some less-engaging thematic backdrops. Apart from the work’s title–which enticingly conjures up the mysteries of ancient civilizations whose prelanguage rock engravings we are still trying to decipher–and use of the term “revenant”–so recurrent one expects Harvey’s vaguely undead to appear as vividly as in A Christmas Carol–the effect of the volume as a whole is unmemorable. For example, “La Parole” takes a moment from the present then rather heavy-handedly summons practically the entire history of human communication: “The night hums with a heat / that embraces southern stars / that glitter above moist haze. / She in a word is a revenant / who escapes her captivity […] Soon, the caravans / congregate / and translate / the runes and hieroglyphs / of Babel.” More successful are a series of three “wolf” poems which explore the ravages of aging and vagaries of human relations through the metaphor of the uncivilized pack, and shorter works like “Smoothest Stone,” with its sharp Platonic conclusion–“The smoothest stone weighs / heavy in the bed of a trout’s stream. / Silver scales shimmer / sanded by breathless time, / a spear’s head thrust into being, / resting on our meridian”–and “Couple,” which provocatively depicts a post-Eden Adam and Eve “twitching / from a palsy / of self-involvement.”

A thoughtful and sometimes thought-provoking mixed bag of philosophic musings.

ISBN: 978-0-595-52001-5
Program: Kirkus Indie
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