Cattish is but one of the languages whose roots are explored in Morgan Harlow’s Midwest Ritual Burning (London: Eyewear Publishing, 2012). In the poem, “A Partial Lexicon: ‘Fresh’ and Related,” the speaker traces derivations of “fresh water” and “fresh kill” through Old English and Old High German, but finds that their full meanings peak in Cattish. Corollaries exist in Old Norse, Slavic, and Portuguese, as influenced by the Ermine and Meerkat, not under consideration here.
The languages of Midwest Ritual Burning belong properly to the animals, whose subtopics are trees and the moon, as in the poem “The Undeniable Mystique of Silver Birch Trees” in which the birches’ bark reminds the speaker of “the coppery knobbed knees/of gazelles” yet also of “the moss grown banks of streams/in velvet paintings, brash overuse/of texture and black light/nuance.” The birches are animals. The birches are trapped in paintings that remind anyone who sees them of the first trees of home.
What is and where is home in this volume of poetry that refreshes the reader in its being simply that, poetry? This is poetry in more than one form that finds ancient ties to vision.
Home is Rome, as in the poem, “Hera and Zeus,” whose featured gods find in the moon two forms of love, his: the moon “as an alien searchlight” and hers: the moon as ballast to the world “with great chunks of it.”
There are animals older than the gods, such as the gorilla, to remind us of a past not yet recollected by the finest artists of a later Rome or England. Many of the poems are ekphrastic. The poet and the speaker in the poems are studying not only nature, not only woman and man, not only the older animals or language, but also the history of art itself.
Art includes literature. Purveyors Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, and Longfellow place a claim on the living and become characters in time. The living poet speculates about the recognitions of the dead in these events: water, trees, dark, animals.
Joan Miró is not a character in the poems’ rejoinders. His surrealist gestures are, as in Harlow’s poem, “Joan Miró, Ciphers and Constellations in Love with a Woman, 1941”:
A string of broken friendship, a lifetime of it, followed,
friendships rejected, hundreds of would be friends,
her own father who needed her at the end but looked
at her in a way that made her understand he knew
it was she who would need him, as Hamlet had needed
In the title poem “a belated daffodil” serves as the focal point of Min’s shovel, the cultivating purpose of Davy’s and Min’s “burning hooves and horns” to nourish chickens with “ash rich in calcium.” The funky Midwesterners and their activities near the barn remind one of Ashbery’s Flossie and Dad in “Obedience School.”
The reader can intuit something of Lorine Niedecker’s quiet natural progressions in Harlow’s poems, furnished in line and stanza patterns uniquely their own.
Ann Bogle has been a member at Fictionaut since July 2009. She is fiction reader at Drunken Boat, creative nonfiction and book reviews editor at Mad Hatters’ Review, and served formerly as fiction editor at Women Writers: a Zine. She earned her M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Houston in 1994. Her stories have appeared in journals including Blip, Wigleaf, Metazen, Istanbul Literary Review, The Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Fiction International, Big Bridge, Thrice Fiction, fwriction : review, THIS Literary Magazine, and others. Her short collections of stories, Solzhenitsyn Jukebox and Country Without a Name, were published by Argotist Ebooks in 2010 and 2011. Books at Fictionaut features reviews of books published by Fictionaut contributors.