Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Anachronistic Pasture

I have set myself up to be a critic of the Necropastoral, a movement more in love with the living dead-ness and "uncanny" offspring of cyberspace, rather than the pasture of the traditional lyricism which approaches the physical sublime a poet may seek out, by way of exploring, or sauntering. For the poem, the movement out into the pasture, as a place for the poem, is for Joyelle McSweeney, a move toward anachronism.

It isn't hard to see how right McSweeney is, even if I wish she was wrong. An example is a recent eChapbook published by Blue Hour Press, No Silence in the Field, by Rachel Mennies, a lovely book of poems capturing various voices in the rural farmland of New England. The setting alone puts itself in danger of anachronism (where is Robert Frost these days?) so there's a sense that, even if we are temporally in the present, the present is ambiguous, where even appliances such as "the Kitchenaid whirs by the old feed storage" (13) is suspect. I feel this is deliberate on Mennies' part. "Rural" is a space pregnant with possibilities that soon miscarry; not a bad analogy, since miscarriage is a central tension in Mennies' book, climaxing in a beautifully heart-breaking poem "What Killed All the Bees" (24). 

It is the chapbook's final poem, "Morning, The Diggers Break New Ground" that the miscarriage of the New England farm is seen in full, the planks of the barn being taken down for new houses. "Time for the miracle of multiplying / strip the barn walls and make ten houses / where one once thrived" (30). The death of the barn bears an uncanny progeny. This is the living present, where what characters we knew are now discovered by means of their antique possessions, already beginning to rot. The conclusion is a dismantling of a landscape, perhaps the natural end to any rural image, but its a cynicism I'm not yet willing to share. 

This post mostly wished to present Mennies' book, which is lovely, so go read it. I remark only on our present dilemma of being unable to write the rural/agrarian into any contemporary present. Later posts will look at poems that are attempting this, and how they succeed or fail.

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