Reviewed by Carrie Olivia Adams
Kevin Craft knows how to spin a metaphor and to disrupt what seems simple. In his first collection of poems, Solar Prominence, he proposes:
If the body is eighty
percent water, a man
might drown simply lying
down to sleep, or walking
to the corner store
for bread and a newspaper
find himself struggling to stay afloat
in the riptide of his own bad blood.
These lines from “Medical History” are enough to make us uncomfortable and untrusting of our own individual bodies. Craft skillfully constructs his lines to unsettle, as evidenced by the unparallel structure of the stanza above, in which the second dependent clause has already lost (or drowned, or pulled under) the subject.
As much as his verse is unsettling, Craft writes about being unsettled. His poems are fascinated with the idea of the journey--in the physical sense of a journey from place to place, in the sense of the progression of time, as well as in the sense of the emotional and intellectual journey of a self through life. These are poems infused with world travel, sailing voyages and shipwrecks, the arrival of comets, and the importance of the weather in heaven, among other subjects of roaming, begetting, becoming. He states in “The Difference”:
His thesis was terminal restlessness--
cloudy islands and theatrical volcanoes,
bays groomed by canoes and circled by float planes,
the migratory stunts of coho and flycatchers,
a small brown estuary
in the saucer on his table.
Craft might as well be describing the thesis and tone of his poetry, which has its own relentless restlessness. In “To an Amphora, Salvaged @,” a poem unlike the others in the collection due to its long, wordy sentences that tumble and roll down the page, he writes:
. . . --all motion
ascribed to the heart's steady restlessness
but likely more akin to an electron's
struck from the shell of its whirlwind and spinning
out counterclockwise to the antic world,
the cipher sea, @ large again, a silence
speaking volumes, blinking now and then
like a Cyclops whose godsent ship's come in.
Throughout his poems, Craft captures the movement and resonance of various journeys in the images and descriptions of the small things glimpsed and gathered along the way. As he writes in the long poem “After a Journey,” “To journey is to make a day of it, / to find dailiness sufficient, the mundane divine.” As a result of the act of journeying, the mundane is elevated to the role of souvenir and thus assumes a significance beyond the ordinary:
I make a little pile
of stones I've picked up there & here--
my hermeia, ambit cairn
of touchstone souvenirs--
agate, jasper, meteorite, carnelian,
each enamored of a mile.
Of course, it is a given that the journey puts one in a liminal position: “ --broken instep, stone half / skipped, half sunk restlessly between.” It is this tension “between voyage and the void,” that makes these souvenirs so important. The traveler is a body in motion, and consequently arrival guarantees departure: one has always already left, and therefore one is perpetually absent. In the poems of Solar Prominence, the souvenirs are tangible placeholders, markers of an undertaking, a voyage undertaken.
“After a Journey” concludes:
The story is restoration, sing-along,
in millennial Avignon: the city plans
to rebuild its bridge's famous, missing
spans, only to tear them down again
the following year. At what cost? A song.
It is to this question of cost that I find myself returning, upon reading Craft's poems. These are poems written in a language carefully honed within a syntax that begins on a straight path, then twists and turns and rises and falls in keeping with content. Yet, despite the glimmering moments when Craft encourages us to question the commonplace, as he does in “Medical History,” the poems are, in general, lyrical without a cost, without risk. This is their weakness. The poems stand at a distance, for one to admire them; however, one does not feel invited into their travels. As a result, this volume is a formidable step toward a work as intense as the celestial phenomenon its title evokes.