Thursday, November 10, 2011

ARCHAEOLOGY AT MIDNIGHT

Book Cover on the Fly!

While visiting in central Florida, I've taken a "time out" to read poetry, my favorite genre, and selected for my bedtime reading, Archaeology at Midnight, the newest publication from Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado. This book of poetry by Martha McFerren, who is a master of the wry line, is an antidote to the literary works of a literalist, historicized society of the West that has discarded the "power of myth" (to borrow from Joseph Campbell), and her poems reflect sharp insights into humankind—its myths, philosophies, and foibles.  She probes ancient society and contemporary society through the lens of her own experiences and relates them with verve, using strong satiric skills and turning our attention to inward realities.

On two pages of the book, facing one another, McFerren probes the art of prehistoric man and Tudor England, commenting in two succinct swaths, incising the psyche of a cave dweller, first, in a minimalist poem that profiles our ancestors in lines that capture the nature of prehistoric man: "The all-together,/outside and inside./I worship what I kill/and make again. I look at my hands,/baffled by their motion./ I don't understand my eyes./What do they want?/My mouth doesn't help me./I can speak/only one word at a time./And so I kneel here/both outside and/within myself./I need others/but have to be alone...A word: Look./Another word: Make." This is minimalist poetry at its most powerful and is one of those poems to which nothing more should be added.

On the succeeding page, "Glastonbury, September," features powerful imagery about the ruined architecture of Glastonbury, a romantic place in England during King Arthur's time.  The opening lines caused me to feel like Emily Dickinson's description of a good poem: "as if the top of my head was blown off." McFerren writes: "This is where we walk into the air./Doors leading nowhere/Nowhere making doors. A Gothic arch frames breath. A broken stair/becomes a helix..." and concluding with similar powerful imagery: "After millennia of red despair./How sweet the easy twilight of the story. /This is where we walk into the air."

Writing about the contemporary world, McFerren captures the personality of an overprotective mother in a satirical poem entitled "Beware," two pages of admonishments to a daughter who has moved to metropolitan Houston, a dangerous place where the mother feels the daughter will die from an encounter with an unknown assailant.  "Beware" is a "laugh aloud" poem, especially the lines that show McFerren's wonderful originality and humor: "Stand in the corner/in your zipped-up thick robe/Be unmoving. Be very good./If you are wrapped/you will remain unraped..."

Another "laugh aloud" poem emphasizes the human love of fat, dating back to prehistoric times when women instructed men who were going out to the hunt: "Bring us fat./Plentiful, dripping, sizzling fat./It tastes so good. Yes, bring home fat..." and culminating "in the kitchen with a stick of butter -- not butter with canola oil/but pure, unsalted butter...I place one sliver on my tongue/and no communion wafer could be sweeter or more reverential./It tastes so good...We have the new encyclical: No fat..."

In Archaeology at Midnight, the metaphors are apt; the humor is piquant and flawless. McFerren reflects the humanness of all of us, reminding me of the poet, Marge Piercy, in that she has the same keen eye as Piercy and records what she sees with uncompromised candor.  

Pinyon Publishing has published a winner, and I might add, the winner is a Louisiana poet who lives down the road, a 2 hrs. and 30 min. drive from New Iberia, in the "City that Care Forgot," New Orleans.

Archaeology at Midnight can be ordered from www.pinyon-publishing.com.

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