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Saturday, 11 June 2011

Guest Review: Galleymore on Van Winkle, Farrell & Campanello


Tomorrow , We Will Live Here

Seven Bays of Spirituality
by Patricia Farrell

Spinning Cities

Despite the ardent future tense of the title, Tomorrow, We Will Live Here, the past creeps, often more fervently, through the poems of Ryan Van Winkle’s impressive first collection. Journeys, parties and conversations are recalled like landmarks on a map from which to plot a way through life: ‘that night was something/that I come back to/like a constellation an uncle showed me’. And Ryan Van Winkle does ‘come back’ to untangle and make sense of all these encounters and experiences by adopting them as if they were his own; approaching many with a gripping first-person narrator. 
Van Winkle’s approach results in poems that breathe sensory detail and it is not difficult for the reader to slip into these seemingly personal ‘diaries of marrow’. Take ‘Gasoline’ for example. The recent spill and consequent smell of ‘a can of gasoline onto the dirt/floor of the barn’ ignites the sinister memory of hitching West ‘in the back of a truck/the color of rust’ with a driver who ‘kept all these rags back there,/soaked in gasoline. It was warm/and I fell asleep cocooned in reek. This, in addition to the description of the driver’s smile revealing ‘teeth like a caterpillar’, find Van Winkle to be an adept craftsmen of the dark surreal image. Furthermore, such images are supported by Van Winkle’s rich and edgy sound patterns and often unsettled, and so unsettling, syntax. The conclusion of ‘Gasoline’ is suitably unresolved: the narrator explains his attempt to ‘lose’ the cloying smell of the gas ‘in a stream’, ‘thought I sent it upriver, away/like father, the attic, his ties.’. Clearly, what goes upriver must come downriver and as much of Tomorrow, We Will Live Here returns the past to the present, several of the poems return both the attic as an estranged image of childhood and the father in a poem such as ‘Tomorrow the Red Birds’.
The latter poem looks out to the kind of back-garden Rachel Carson wrote about in regard to DDT in Silent Spring: it is evident an insecticide has been used as the poem’s title flows into the first line: ‘will eat the dead mosquitoes’. This split couplet works almost as an epigram for the following lines that focus on a different food-chain comprising his father and ‘what poison/there was in his air, what he ate/and drank as a boy that made him.’

Do I call, say, “this
is your son and I’ve been thinking
of cancer ‘cause the orange men
are coming to spray the trees?”
or do I just
fasten the windows
caulk the cracks, pull
the picnic table inside,
hope nothing gets in.

Van Winkle’s ability to consider the weight and timing of each stanza as if it were a series of filmed scenes is most captivating here. Indeed, this cinematographic quality results in an emotionally powerful yet physically subtle movement throughout the poem that focuses initially out to the garden, then into the domestic before it returns back outdoors to the banal ‘picnic table’.
The convincing situations and moods that Van Winkle appears to construct so effortlessly often scream to be compared with American poets such as those of the Beat Generation. For example, in ‘The Flood’ and ‘Oregon Trail’ Van Winkle echoes a meditative Gary Snyder: ‘We’ll send colors:/ postcards of nothing,/ of range and empty pink.’ Yet to return to poems previously mentioned, whilst assuming Snyder-esque themes of travelling and the relationship between nature and urban ritual, Van Winkle finds a grittier voice. ‘Retrieving the Dead’ has to be one of the most successful poems in this style. Reading the poem for the opening event at this year’s StAnza festival, Van Winkle prefaced the poem with an explanation, which in retrospect was definitely appropriate. This is because unlike many of Van Winkle’s poems that address his subject head-on, ‘Retrieving the Dead’ takes a scenic route around the subject of road-kill. Here he seems to enjoy the absurdity of how ‘We ride on the dead, getting to town, going home’. Interestingly, the poem also reveals itself on the page as a sonnet that teases playfully with full-rhymes then half rhymes and a very subtle volta which cues the arrival of that attention-grabbing first person narrator that, this time, comes ‘in jeans with a shovel and an orange truck’.
John Glenday is right to link Van Winkle’s poems to paintings of Edward Hopper’s, and it is possible to extend this comparison to the voyeurism inherent to Hitchcock’s Rear Window (a poem such as ‘The Apartment’ makes this clear just from its form on the page). Yet Van Winkle’s insight into natural, cultural and social processes finds him surprisingly comparable to writers such as Barry Lopez and A. R. Ammons when he describes, at the end of ‘Retrieving the Dead', how one should ‘lift the soldiers up, try not to breathe till they’re tossed/into our trenches of tea bags, messed diapers, spare parts.’ Indeed, Van Winkle’s poems are not static portraits of men and women framed in windows or doorways, but poems with characters that move within their environments and which, with their histories, move the reader.

Unlike Ryan Van Winkle, Patricia Farrell’s pamphlet, Seven Bays of Spirituality, focuses on the movement of one man from poem to poem. As each poem is formed like a stanza on the page, it is not difficult to visualize this figure moving from room to room.  However what does become difficult when reading Farrell’s work is getting a solid grip on what the poems are about. Like Louis Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers Farrell’s short poems are unpunctuated and elliptical, but lacking Zukofsky’s lyrical juxtapositions, Farrell’s poems often feel like hard work. Despite being produced by The Knives Forks and Spoons Press Farrell’s pamphlet is, on first impression, difficult to digest.
However, with further reading comes reward. Once in the realm of these poems, Farrell delivers a curious and rather addictive perspective on spatial dimensions and how we perceive, and change, the settings we find ourselves in. The shadowy figure wanders between two-dimensional and three-dimensional landscapes: from making ‘green pictures in chalk and crayon’ he ‘walks SLAP into the canvas at the end of/the boulevard’ and later ‘makes a hole in the wall and goes out/through it’. Unlike Ryan Van Winkle’s first-person narrator who is reinvented with each poem, Farrell’s figure reinvents his environment as if trying to construct a space in which to settle. However each textual nest either alludes him: ‘his gates have sunk in the ground  when/he colours it blue it disappears  how/much use  can one surface take’, or become impossibly uncomfortable where he finds himself ‘placed in a body in which there is scarcely room to sit down’.
Reminiscent of Bruce Nauman’s avant-garde explorations of spatial dimensions in such pieces as Wall-Floor Positions, Farrell’s figure creates his environments as he moves around them. Farrell’s background as an artist serves her well in this thread that runs imaginatively through Seven Bays of Spirituality.  Sometimes the most successful examples of this subtly set a scene. For instance, techniques such as collage appear wonderfully translated into text in such lines as:  ‘startled with images  traced from magazines/something has filled up the sky’. The result may at first appear daunting to read, yet these poems are layered creations that uses the page as ‘a plain surface […] a playground’.

Kimberly Campanello writes from a very different, politically-driven, ground in Spinning Cities. The economically tight space she allows her poems make for a kaleidoscopic effect as cultures jostle against each other in the bracing straightforwardness of her lines. For instance, the second poem in Campanello’s collection begins with ‘It’s been a good day, I say, on 1st Ave,. Little Haiti’ before ‘Jewish women’, ‘the pigs sleeping in the boat’, ‘the placenta in the dust’ and the ‘people missing limbs’ all crowd for attention in the following text. However, like many of the poems in Spinning Cities, Campanello guides this disorder by questioning polarities: ‘they have a different/definition of public and private’; ‘Is there something to it? Clean and unclean’. Throughout the poems these questions linger and spark further questions, and so swivel Campanello’s piercing gaze to more detailed scenarios.
            Indeed, one poem later Campanello’s ‘I’ concentrates on defending ‘The Maya’ after they ‘get arrested on South Beach/for sitting on a bench too many days.’ Here, instead of crowding cultures for a disorientating journey, she crowds erroneous associations that occur with a misunderstood culture:

as though their pockets contain nuclear waste
and their backpacks are I-Phones of destruction
with applications that will drain our bank accounts,
steal our women, and leave dog shit unscooped.

It would appear that Campanello does not fret over each and every word in her poem but instead puts all her energy into the poignant, and often eerie, juxtapositions she constructs. After the humorously bathetic descent of the crimes that comes close to brilliant and unexpected satire, the poem then turns to accuse the narrator’s associations of the Maya:


There are no Maya to watch over me
as though they had special
powers, as though I was important […]
I do realise that I’m romanticising the Maya[.]

Yet the tone here is ever so slightly disappointing as it reveals, perhaps, just a little too much without that economic language. The most successful of Campanello’s juxtapositions are those that piece together a startling metaphor through uniting various, well-considered images. Resonant pieces result, which deserve long quotation such as Campanello’s poem where

At the Oktoberfest in Cape Coral she shows me
the ultrasound of her fetus that’s well past the fish stage.
The eyes are open in the water.

The poem then swivels to ‘a ditch full of gasoline run-off and McDonalds bags’ that ‘blue herons’ attempt to fish before terrifying, Campanello connects the two and confesses: ‘My eyes are open. I am thrilled not to be in that water.’
Ultimately, Spinning Cities confronts the politics of division from age and gender to class and race with a measured, astute crisis of conscience. It is a relief that this confrontation does not attempt answers but only further questions for Campanello excels at these. Although as ‘a census worker is lynched in Kentucky/and proposing health care makes you a Nazi’ may seem like local events and issues, they have wide-ranging consequences and Campanello is more than conscious of this as she asks: ‘when will we sleep this off or wake up somewhere else?’


Isabel Galleymore is currently studying Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews. Her poems have been published in magazines such as Agenda and The Guardian
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