Monday, October 11, 2010
J.D. Whitney, All My Relations. Many Voices Press, Flathead Community College, 777 Grandview Drive, Kalispell, MT 59901. 120 page. $16-paper.
Even a few words, perhaps, are too many when writing about these poems. As is usually the case with Whitney's work, these are spare poems, nothing wasted. And again, as is usually the case with Whitney's work, there is wisdom here, mixed with humor.
"All my relations" is an English approximation of the Lakota notion that we are brother/sister with all things, or "cousin," as Whitney would have it. Each of these 106 poems addresses a particular cousin with respect, though that doesn't mean we don't kill the feeding mosquito:
And perhaps we're not so wise as we think:
COUSIN LOONAre these cousins red with tooth and claw? Yes, at times:
We think you
And what of our part in how things are?
First the shadows of
meet the mouse.talons
COUSIN STUMPYes, these are short poems, spare but muscular. The poet's angle of vision is often not the expected one, so that - as with all good poetry - we see things anew. All our cousins are refreshed for us in Whitney's version of them. And in our new understanding we are refreshed ourselves.
I have been thinking for some time now that writing short poems is more challenging than writing longer poems, in that with the short poem there is nowhere to hide. Every word, every line is essential - like a pile of boulders, move one and they all fall down. Whitney's short poems succeed, no need to hide anything. Somewhere within them, something jumps and we say "Aha!" I would suggest that you read All My Relations and have a few "Aha!" moments yourself, as with this:
I hear you