As someone from a family with a long naval history, who has relatives lost or buried at sea, I tend to hold my breath when a camera pans below the tideline. So the title of Alex Grant's poetry collection Fear of Moving Water piqued a particular interest.
But the metaphor turns out to be nothing so tame. In fact, it is as comprehensive as it could get. The water he refers to is the teeming water of Creation itself, at once terrifying in its awesome potential and benign in its benevolent intent.
Atoms that can split are capable of spinning, too.
Between these two poles, the prism pivots in light and flashes its crystal miracles. The book opens with this elemental piece, entitled Black Moon:
I watch him drag the boat across
the scree, over the dry doggerel
of mackerel scales and filament
of a season ended, to the water.
The sand flays the last flakes
of paint from the boat's hull,
splash and crack at the confluence
of stone and water, and he is out
beyond the waves, where fishbones
glint like small suns in a black mirror,
and the splay of the Pelican's wing
stitches the sea to the sky. Brine-
bleached hands haul the sodden creel
above the gunwales, and there again
is the gaping child-shaped hole,
sawn by the snapping turtle's teeth,
ragged-cut and impossible to mend.
Did I say that the turtle is guided
by ambient moonlight? So, the wolf
howls, The waves gnaw the shore.
Bones and light are mixed with water
The poet has adopted a pristine kind of omniscience, not that which stands aloof and plies with observation and revisited emotion, but one that enters subtlely into the 'beingness' (istigkeit?) of his subject. This strikes me as something not quite defined by empathy. By a fluent evolution of images he invokes a new awareness and succeeds in capturing the instant of genesis almost by mood alone.
much unseen activity under the opaque waves -
like shoals of trigger-fish scuttling to fertilize
flotillas of bobbing eggs – frenzied clouding
explained away by the calm biology of ganglion
and axion, the clustered nerve and inexplicable
attraction named, as if by naming we could
pin the unknowable, the way we name clouds -
Cirrus, Fractostratus, Cumulonimbus, Mammatus.
There is a similar dissolution of flesh and matter to Shelley when he loses himself in the imagery of 'nature' and paints a facsimile of human nature. Boundaries are always permeable.
In The Ocean, Bones Flash Like White Stars In Winter...
...The wise man knows that
The sea, the gull, the salmon,
All contain the world
Grant is his own universe whose confines are limited only by the mind and soul's capacity to catch reflections. Memory seems to stir with recognition of the pre-natal element of incarnation. There are no ends and beginnings. We are caught up in a gigantic cyclical force of endless birth, baptism into life and seasons, skin sloughed off, else shed like confetti, a splintering of tooth and bone, the delirium of death throes, whilst the 'random immensity of the world' is a place full of eggs and latent regeneration. The cuckoo sings and all things pervade 'the scent of life'.
Meanwhile the life men live is one of stark compression, minutely sequinned with fleeting truths.
Firepit sparks fly like lightning bugs,
brief and brilliant
in their tiny incarnations – universes of light.
It is all too vast to take on board and there is the danger that the circle, hurling through space, might spin out of control. What's the use of hurrying and harrying to try and keep up?
There's Love and Death, and in between, you eat and drink
The sun, the moon, the ocean's noiseless halls,
It really doesn't matter what you think.
Amphibious till the moment that you blink
Below the amniotic rain that squalls -
There's Love and Death, and in between, you eat and drink..
In Fear of Moving Water, Grant has worked hard to make some very complex insights accessible, inspired by an original imagination and instinctive use of language. Some of the poems are wry, some stricken, some bemused. And some humorous, as in the one entitled Giant. The narrator, who says elsewhere: 'Each universe defined by each observer' is smoking a cigarette whilst watching a column of midges at sunset. He decides that 'eight midge seconds equals one of our years' and reflects upon the advancing stages of insect maturity, which turns out to be a brilliant analogy of human experience. 'He spiraled up again, and by the time he'd reached the top, he'd sent all seventeen-hundred of his children to a fashionable private swarm in the upper reaches of a more desirable neighbouring tree.' The poor creature went to his doom with only three-quarters of the cigarette spent!
Such minutiae, as well as being entertaining, bring eternity within touching distance.
This is a fascinating collection which never suspends the wonderment that can be translated into Hope. 'The taste of mystery never leaves the mouth'.
But don't just take my word for it. See for yourself.
Causes Alex Grant Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center