Saturday, June 4, 2016

Book Review: Walking the Refuge, by Glenn Watt

One can easily imagine poet Glenn Watt out in a field or copse of trees, silently intent on the myriad life surrounding him, especially the bird life. In Walking the Refuge, 2015 winner of the Blue Light Poetry Prize, finishing the last poem completed my education on how these wildlife  refuges we establish are ultimately and equally not only havens for wildlife but also for ourselves, classrooms where we can re-learn that most simple state of ourselves. 

Watt is a skilled poet who uses his craft to weave around the reader the reality of the world we have imagined away. He describes the business of the world beyond human habitation, establishing windows that we look through and see nature, slide open and feel the breeze and smell the rain, climb through if we still retain the agility to re-capture what we perhaps had as children--being truly and totally in a particular place and moment. For Watt (and through him for ourselves) the myriad birds that inhabit these refuges are our spirit guides. In this sense his poetry stands along with the journals of Thoreau, Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End, and Robert Hass’s Field Guide (1973).

A significant number of the poems are one sentence long, extended images, tone poems inspired by the poetry of original perception. In “Fledgling,” the single sentence is a question, whether a kestrel's life is a compilation of impressions which matures to a “familiarity, a kind of affection/ for what is.” In “Keeping Score,” Watt plays with the word score as both tally and music of “twitchy short-tailed tones/ teased out of the tune.”

Here is an appropriate point to mention Watt’s adept prosody, his use of alliteration, assonance, line break, and stanza which provide structure and intensity precisely where needed, like swallows swooping through evening shadows. His greatest strength (as it should be) is his use of sense imagery, as seen in his exquisite use of color in the poem “...the myriad petals…” where we are given a “pilfered glimpse” of “bloody/ mauves and violets, molten oranges/ and icy turquoise-blues” from the palette of nature.

Watt also displays the ability to write poems with strong closure, imbuing his finely honed images with significance. He begins “Nelson’s Sharp-Tail” with questions about creation (and I should probably capitalize the C):

Who wouldn't want to replicate it? Who wouldn't 
want to make it again and again new?

This winged creation, an ocheraceous mixture, as the poet says, of ocher and outrageous (his take on his reference book’s word choice), is “tossed … into the willows.” The poem ends:

And then, as all things of beauty do, it fled.

Watt’s poetry reminds us that we should not take nature for granted, much less with disdain. He reminds us that the Common Yellowthroat is not so common except within the restrictions of our perception. We should hope and wait, be eager to experience being “momentarily shoulder to shoulder/ in the weeds” with our spirit guides, that these wild birds in their natural habitats are not so different than us--only more elegant and gracious in their colors, more harmonious in their song, spirit reminders who have come, as Watt writes,

over from that other world
to haunt for a little while longer 
                                      yit yit yit

this one. 

--posted from my iPhone 


Post a Comment