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Monday, March 17, 2014

Review: Songs from a Wild Place by Jason Kirkey

In Songs from a Wild Place, poet Jason Kirkey dedicates the book “To anyone who ever thought they could change the world with their art” then proceeds to the first poem “Silence” where “this life is not yet spoken;/ it cannot hear itself/ or the melody around it/ which sings of all the/ unbidden lyrics/ raging in its heart.”

Not rage, however, but wonder asks “Who is the Poet? Who is the Pen?” in a poem by that title where “Anything can happen in the bare lines/ stretched before us” as we keep on “listening and faithfully writing what we hear.”

Seeking and finding inspiration “Near the center of a land that/ I have known,” the poem “Self Portrait” proclaims our acceptance in a vastness where “I could still claim,/ if nothing else,/ this breathing as my own.”

And so as we, like the poet, give ourselves over to poetry and that “Wonder at the Edge of Morning,” we begin to “emerge from the dark,/ the invisible world slipping from our shoulders” to find “waking is an art of wonder;/ the mastery in taking the first/ pure note of the day, and stretching/ it across the measure of all the hours” as each day we awaken to new life, new resources of time and energy, new opportunities, new hopes and visions and songs.

“When Lightning Strikes the Heart,” however, “there is no telling what/ dark storm will take…” us, “turning us toward the/ life we have avoided.” But then, isn’t that the risk we take as poets and artists in search of honesty and truths in need of telling?

As a poet and editor-publisher of Hiraeth Press, Jason Kirkey understands the cost of creativity as revealed in “Canto III: Descent to Hades,” which begins with the haunting line, “There will be no sky tonight.” Later the poem cautions, “if you are afraid then turn your eyes/ not away, but towards –/ compassion is the heart of tension.” And, in “Canto IV: Contradiction, Beauty,” the poem exhorts us with these words, “If you have healed yourself/ then you must heal the world.”

Nevertheless, the “Song of the Broken” cautions us about our “need/ to keep plunging in desperate/ prayer into the dark waters” of our wounds where “the scars will not heal – / shouldn’t,/ they’re your voice and honor,/ the ground from which you rose.”

This openness to the poem, this vulnerability to our art continues in “The Mountain of No-Self,” asking, “What faith can we find in the always changing world?/ What safety? What presence? None without risk!/ Abandon safety. Come dance on the mountains.”

Despite the risks and chancy moments when, as poets or artists, we occasionally veer too near the edge of despair, “July Leaves” leaves us with the initial need for silence – that quiet space in which to process our lives and art, saying, “If you would speak, then meditate/…following the breath to its center/ and there to find the waiting pearl of some/ invisible and luminous strand that/ doesn’t want your name.”

In a literary terrain where poets and writers are constantly told to market themselves and establish a brand, Songs from a Wild Place has none of that. Instead, this highly recommend book ends with a call to see a large view of ourselves and the work we’ve been given, leaving us with this word: “If you would meditate, then speak;/ if you would speak then know that the sound/ of your breathing passed through the pure/ silence of your body, and all the music that follows/ is the freedom that we were born for./ The air is already rushing in to fill you./ What is the beauty that you will sing?”

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem, published by Hiraeth Press

Songs from a Wild Place, paperback

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