A well-ordered, vibrant collection of slightly cerebral, loose sonnet-format and free verse reflections on existentialism, imagination and language.
In this aptly titled collection, Slonimsky (Logician of the Wind, 2012, etc.) explores the tension between the essentialisms governing individual entities—be they human, animal or subatomic particle—and the yearning for sublimation to a purer, more expansive state of being. In “Camel,” a lonely dromedary nurses comfort from the thought that “[t]he freedom in vast solitude / includes shaping one’s self” and so imagines “her body, light / of moon or sun, her movements fire, flames / bequeathed to her by Big Bang.” However, the heavier realities of form and matter reassert themselves every time she “lumbers to be closer” to any other creature entering her enclosure, invariably frightening them away. Humans, too, indulge in existential fantasy before bowing to reality, as in “Commodities Trader”: “You’d rather be a scholar of space / than trade commodities, / though understanding numbers / remains your cure for chaos.” Remedies exist, however. For sheep, who “cannot make a leap like a man can, / embroider, drill a well, or smoke the sky / with jet exhaust,” there are still the “pleasures of the grass” and abiding comprehension for those designed to “love to chew and brood.” And for humans, there is the disorienting but transformative wellspring of self-knowledge—“I feel atoms spinning inside me; / they’re making me dizzy….The spin of atoms is a secret / no human being should be exposed to / except in diagrammed textbooks”—and the unfettered potential of the imagination to forge alternate realities: “The broken branch can’t drink / but if it could, / imagine its delight / two months from now / when April shatters all this snow around it.” Not surprisingly, Slonimsky locates the apogee of these abilities in poetry. Pondering the inception of human language, in the sonnet “Word,” he marvels, “Who knows the moment when language began? / The actual first word, chance or divine— / perhaps from turmoil, frightened cry or whine, or just an exclamation—or oak’s moan / in autumn wind translated with the tongue.” Slonimsky’s insistence on a central, collection-encompassing metaphor and on frequently recurring imagery will test the reader’s patience at times, but the sheer momentum of his tumbling, vigorous lines ultimately proves transformative.
Soaring, visionary verse with Whitmanesque optimism.