Review of A Canticle for Palmquist

As I had mentioned before, these poems are both very cerebral and very visceral

-these two are certainly not opposites but they are difficult to bring together in a sustained and coherent way, as you have done here. In fact, the themes of disparate association or associations being divided runs through these 36 + poems as, perhaps, an organizing theme - the Yin and Yang of the universe held in the Yin and Yang of these poems.

Is that, perhaps, the reason for the title - the homely but powerful image of the aged couple - the man, the woman, reaching across the gap between the two beds not as a violent protest against the separation, but as a natural refusal to make that division, or any division, final, descriptive or normative?

The second group of poems continues this theme - the battle of divisions is in the protagonist in his hotel room - separated and staying in Whitefish Bay. The sexuality of the poetry is neither prurient nor particularly erotic (and thus bears closer resemblance, eh, the sexuality as humans perceive and experience it - the Inuit term for 'makinglove', translated into English, after all, is 'laughing'). The dreams sequence reflects the internal chaos longing for some kind of order or sense - even when that order is the violence of Nagasaki or the flushing toilet.

The third group of songs continues that meditation into the divisions we sense. The matching of what most often are ... well, pastoral and even lyric poetry with the devastation of the battles you reference finally come together in the three meditations on the death of your brother. Whereas the descriptions of the previous battles bear a logical and linear sequence of descriptions and observations, when these things come into the personal experience, the real life, there can only be flashes of realization ... scraps of information, almost-knowledge notes that are floating on and below the surface of the three poems of loss.

These read like the poetry of Job - how can one make sense out of the absurd? To try is to increase the absurdity ... only poetry can enter it and, as Douglas John Hall says in another but related context, 'give shape to the darkness'.

The cerebral content, of course comes with the numerous references to mythology and history. Wow - I'm glad I had Freshman Core at Luther College. The visceral quality (or qualities) comes from the disgust at your vision of monotheistic triumphalism and violence - a baptism of the Scythian war lust.

Well, given the way all disciplines, whether history or theology or ... well, or whatever, I suppose one could debate some of the observations or causes. But none can really deny the terror you describe in the poems - the Son and the Sun of Kali, the ovens of Europe, the bloodiness of Anselmic substituionary atonement, the horrors of triumphalistic theologies and on. We religious folks have houses of glass (stained, but in a way we tend not to acknowledge) and need to exercise humility and care if we think to throw any brickbats and those who don't agree in the details, but share an expansive agreement on the need to be honest about this earth we inhabit - honesty and love need each other the same way hatred and dishonesty thrive together.

Mange Takk
Brent Christensen
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updated 10/21/08