Tuesday, February 13, 2007



The Plant Waterer and other things in common by Kathryn Rantala
(Ravenna Press, Edmonds, WA, 2006)

I've read quite a few poetry collections where interconnectedness is--as I read them--an underlying poetics. Kathryn Rantala's The Plant Waterer makes it fresh--by creating her own garden from this seed (sorry, couldn't resist the pun). Witness:

Once when I was unlocking the car, the air blew up and surprised me so that I dropped my keys. When I bent to pick them up I was surprised again. An amusing, conversational air. One day when I could think of nothing to say, it ventured out in front of me in a breezy sort of way.

I feel good to be elaborated this way. As old as I become I will always shudder at the cruelty of fans.

Next week I am planning a trip that will take me aloft. I wonder if the winds above are of the same temperament. How many varieties will be there? Maybe the parents of this gentle breeze? I imagine their pride when they held this little zephyr in their hands. I hope they hold my plane in the same protective way; that I will be sustained by the casual buoyancies of the sky.
--from "The Air"

"Casual" is a good, albeit deceptive, summation of the collection's overall tone. There's an equanimity throughout -- a lack of straining:

Day 1:
"Pointing Figure" is the wooden portrait of a man wearing a hat, made sometime between 1890 and 1900 for a group of the Raven Clan. An earlier Pointing Figure was set up on Cat Island by ancestors of the same group for a deceased relative.

Andy Moses helped with the carving of this memorial but never inquired into the story behind it since he was a young man and, like many young men, uninterested in such matters.
--from "Alaska Day Tours"

But that equanimity is hardly simple. Part of the book's charm is how the poise seems effortless. Artless, indeed:

the cars just swarm onto the deck of a
ferry as if they know where they fit best
--from "Sometimes"

The overall effect is quite pleasurable, and enhanced by the intimate drawings throughout the book. I assume the poet is also the visual artist since there's no information to the contrary. And, if so, it's nice to see the book's equilibrium also manifested through the drawings' delicate deftness.

One drawing is even a visual ars poetica--the first drawing is of a tree whose trunk ends in a lighbulb, set amid full leafy hair (with a bit of a halo effect). After all, without light, one would not recognize the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated matter--from a "porous toothpick" to the Borealis to potato soup to The Mohs scale to a "theoretical, joking wind". Without light, we wouldn't see what "things in common," as the collection's title offers, are shared. As the very apt opening poem offers (in its entirety here):

Last night

in a movie something suddenly was made quite clear.

It had to do with the idea that forms of speech held in common are not arbitrary. Or are; I forget which. Last night it was all so suddenly, you know, clear.


Eileen Tabios HEARTS wine, dogs and Thou.


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