Academic journal article The Hudson Review


Academic journal article The Hudson Review


Article excerpt


ONE MIGHT ARGUE ABOUT THE EXTENT TO WHICH the world creates the mind or the mind creates the world; but there is little doubt that place is paramount to many poets, a formative influence, a trigger, and a locus of exploration where the physical, psychological, and sacramental coincide, where ecological concerns might reveal themselves as well. The poets considered here have in common, among other things, an interest in flora and fauna, external and internal landscapes. Their degree of interest in the natural world, of course, varies as much as their way of rendering it.

Habitat1 gathers four decades of Brendan Galvin's writing, poems from seven excellent volumes plus two impressive book-length narratives, Wampanoag Traveler and Saints in their Ox-Hide Boat. In this 250-page collection, new work comes first. "Fogdog," the opener, is a signature poem that reveals a strong sense of place, scientific knowledge, a gift for the unusual word, the radiant moment, the near biblical importance of watching and listening, the de-spiriting implications of our consumer, throwaway culture. The poem's title refers to a mysterious bright spot that appears in breaking fog and often accompanies it as a dog its master: "otherworldly pale, / as a candle held aloft in a house / floated across this bay / . . . / two centuries ago, as if where droplets / and damps are working on shingles / . . . / someone were searching yet." Galvin's poems always surprise. Just when you expect the folkloric, he turns scientific: "I could say this place / has been storied into meaning / by its humans, but these phenomena / are not metaphors: there's a twisted / delta class magnetic field / above sunspot 9715. . . ." After meditating on what he has seen, this inspector of moonscapes, meteor showers, black clouds, and rainbows concludes:

Things out here on the edge

are traveling with their mysteries again.

Yesterday while I worried these events

the wind unleashed an answer

miles away down the beach and sent it

leaping like a tumbleweed over

washed up obstacles

to come whicketing past me

as a plastic bucket,

a cracked yellow human construct

churning out groans as it went.

For Galvin, the healthiest place to be is at the "edge" and attuned to "mysteries." Just as Thoreau worried the implications of the train wailing through Walden Woods, Galvin worries the "cracked yellow human construct." He is even more direct in indicting developers in "Blues for a Kettle Pond," another powerful new poem. Here the speaker tries to find a pond where years ago, with pals, he shouldered a homemade raft down a forest path. Instead he finds a neighborhood of summer trophy houses with

Galvin's imagination has always thrived at the outer reaches of Cape Cod, a world of salt marshes and dunes, lighthouses and foghorns, Italian and Portuguese fishermen, piers and bait shacks, Snopesian quahoggers and pot robbers, tourists addicted to cell phones and gift shops. The Cape is also a teeming habitat for birds, which for Galvin have the kind of central importance that butterflies had for Nabokov. Perhaps our best birder poet, he has written memorably about chickadees, towhees, titmice, owls, great blue herons, pelicans, kingfishers, and many others, always effacing himself before the glory of the thing seen. Again and again he implies that everything isn't about us, a point made in his beautiful ars poetica poem "The Mockingbird."

Humor widens his range. In "Nimblejacks" (one of many funny poems), Galvin fondly asks about the out-of-step eccentrics of his hometown youth, "hot Spats," "The Kaiser," or "soupbeards" like "Boofer, / who checked out the coinbox on every / payphone in town." What became of them? He lists others like "Tic" and "Man of Steel," these "walk-ons from normality's hinterland." The poem is partly a humorous ubi sunt until it makes its final swerve:

They were the canaries in our mineshaft,

our early warning systems . …

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