Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Joanna Klink and the Necropastoral

To my friends I give many books, usually what I would consider good reads. It is usual, however, that when I pass on the poetry of Joanna Klink the receiver, upon reading, is usually left cold.

"It's just too lyrical," they say, which I suppose is fair. Klink is deeply rooted in the lyric pastoral, a pastoral that may be dated for the millennium.

There have been some new theorizing on the pastoral, mostly from the blog Montevidayo featuring Joyelle McSweeney and her concept of the Necropastoral. From what I can understand (and correct me if I'm wrong), the idea is something like this:

The pastoral has always been synonymous with a kind of wilderness that is itself an anachronism of city life. That is, the pastoral is the reflection of the city cast out into a space that is occult, a fable, a fantasy. It has been appreciated and celebrated for its "other-ness" but it merely reflects the city's own decay in a larger space, since it "contaminates" itself with a kind of past glory in the present tense. It is a death of itself in the making, always.

As readers of poetry, we've come to expect this in lyric pastoral; in fact, it is what we are anchored to. A.R. Ammons "Visit," in which the poet, inviting you the reader to his place in the woods, advises the reader to "treat yourself gently: the ascent thins both / mind and blood and you must / keep still a dense reserve / of silence we can poise against / conversation: there is little news . . ."

The celebration of an anachronism. The desire in present to be in a dead past.

Joanna Klink, however, is one of the few poets who still believes in the pastoral as pure and devoid of the city and its pushy homages. I don't think she repudiates the necropastoral, but she certainly complicates it. It is not nostalgia we find in her landscape, but ardor. A yearning that must reject itself and the city. If that's the case her poetry finds itself nowhere, it is a negative of a positive of a negative. Here is the poem that begins her latest book, Raptus (Penguin, 2010):

Some Feel Rain

Some feel rain. Some reel the beetle startle
in its ghost-part when the bark
slips. Some feel musk. Asleep against
each other in the whiskey dark, scarcely there.
When it falls apart, some feel the moondark air
drop its motes to the patch-thick slopes of
snow. Tiny blinkings of ice from the oak,
a boot-beat that comes and goes, the line of prayer
you can follow from the dusking wind to the snowy owl
it carries. Some feel sunlight
well up in blood-vessels below the skin
and wish there had been less to lose.
Knowing how it could have been, pale maples
drowsing like a second sleep above our temperaments.
do I imagine there is any place so safe it can't be
snapped? Some feel the rivers shirt,
blue veins through soil, as if the smokestacks were a long
dream of exhalation. The lynx lets its paws
skim the ground in snow and showers.
The wildflowers scatter in warm tints until
the second they are plucked. You can wait
to scrape the ankle-burrs, you can wait until Mercury
the early star underdraws the night and its blackest
districts. And wonder. Why others feel
through coal-thick night that deeply colored garnet
star. Why sparring and pins are all you have.
Why the earth cannot make its way toward you.

Dream-state, death-state, beautiful annihilation. We are discouraged by her style because she will never offer us what we really desire, to die in a wilderness and awake inside our urban walls. If we die the door will open in a wilderness, but what we walk into is the unknown.