In fact, it is quite the opposite. In the book’s preface, Flynn imagines the great colonial powers of the world slowly topple while the Third World countries rise in rebellion. “Dictator or democracy?” Flynn asks. Then answers with a pithy reminder of the “brown population bomb” that lurks ever-present as population demographics rapidly change around the world.
More than a book about social politics and remembering that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” this interlocked collection of poems describes a “place-based abecedarium in which each letter of the alphabet is represented by two places, cities, countries, or regions whose name corresponds to the letter and its assigned poem.” Harkening back to Flynn’s main arthropoda theme, Colony Collapse Disorder takes shape — the shape of the bee hive, and like poetry and music has shape in its inherent rhythms. In the end, what Keith Flynn has created, here, is quite amazing in terms of global scale and geopolitical perspective. Taking a page from James Joyce‘s Ulysses, which takes us everywhere while staying somewhere, this ambitious collection is unlike any other that I know. The word “ambitious” only begins to describe the content or the context of this collection. With this book Flynn shows off his intellectual curiosity and has taken a huge leap from previous volumes, becoming a global voice with a single stroke of the pen.
I’ve watched Keith Flynn’s journey — from regional lit magazine publisher, to an on-the-road performance poet with a national reputation, to now a voice for the global village. His tenacity and his focus are unsurpassed by anyone else I know of his generation (or possibly any generation). Like any athlete worth his salt, he has raised the bar for himself at every turn. He has, as the west coast poet Neeli Cherkovski has put it, “held the line.”
His determination as an editor, a presenter, and one who sits and writes as a solitary is phenomenal. And the proof of these claims I am making is in the pudding. The quality and quantity of work and miles logged by Flynn speak volumes — but none more eloquently and culturally conscious than the book we are considering here.
Albert Einstein once wrote, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” With this thought burning in the back of his mind, Flynn takes us in Colony Collapse Disorder on a trip around the world — from Flynn Branch Road and his birthplace of Madison County, to Havana, Cuba, to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, to Australia and Osaka, Japan, to Belarus and to points in between. A rollercoaster ride around the planet that allows us to stop just long enough in each port-of-call to see into the practical and positive essences of each country’s ‘hive,’ as well as its potential and/or reason for collapse.
In Srinegar, Kashmir, the poem “The Force of Compassion” is one of the most beautiful and concisely conscious poems in the collection. Like Flynn, himself, who is a professional singer, this poem is about singing, about song.
Sit with things and listen long
and the singing will begin.
Turn your free fall into
a voluntary act. The song
shattered, every being
takes its piece of the harmony.
The well of the past is bottomless
and in the walls the song climbs
out of the nets and jewels of time,
the infinite unraveling mingled
with bitter intervals of radiance,
well water, lotus heart, rising crane.
Here Flynn sounds a lot like one of his favorite poets Paul Reverdy. Yet, there are hints from the Middle East of the poems of Hafiz and Kabir. Flynn has spent the past couple of years taking it all in — and writes here like the bioregional movement’s slogan: “Think globally, act locally.”
From Haiti and the poem “A Navel in the Middle of the World” we are exposed to the daily realities of a population that has seen more than its share of disasters. “Bon appetit, like a navel/in the middle of the world,/but the quasi slow motion/gut punch of an earthquake/has embedded lifting landscapes…” And from Kigali, Rwanda, the poem “The Reckoning.” “…the truth, that the living/are permanently enslaved/in whatever story they deign to tell,/an escalating wreck that drizzles/out into the air as the soul mists over,/wondering what next as the casualties/flame serenely on the path behind.”
But this isn’t only a global landscape of gloom and doom from which Flynn draws his inspiration and his fascination. Flynn can also be philosophical. In the poem “The Agnostic” (Galapagos, Ecuador) he begins: “Nature selects for survival, Man, for appearance./ Our behavior evolves according to our needs./Science, at war with Religion, reveals our origin.” And in “The Birth Mark” (Islamabad, Pakistan) we read the lines: “The same water/that cleanses, kills,/and the will/that erases the/coward, will make/him take a bullet/for his friend./Justify the world/and be confounded./That is the first law.”
And just as quickly and as easily as he can be philosophical Flynn can change his focus to the artistic, the creative. “If you are Chagall/then you believe that/fish can thresh wheat./If you are Rodin,/the gods are your/playthings and their/hands are perfect./The total work of art/is achieved through the/soul’s inner necessity,/the way music persuades/without argument.” (from Vitebsk, Belarus, in the poem “If You Are Chagall.”) And we are there in Belarus where “the chimneys become/holy relics and the hills/raise their skirts and/cancan, with the trees/for legs and blue feet/built from pools of water,…”
After a circumnavigating flight and a breathtaking view of the Earth (not unlike what the astronauts of Apollo 11 saw when looking back at our planet from the moon), Flynn brings himself and his readers back home — to Flynn Branch Road in Madison County, North Carolina—where we find ourselves “there in the bells of our bodies,/lolling in this hellish instant,/what infinite silence envelops us/as the soul sings, finding its voice/in the invisible springs between tones,” and we see through the poet’s eyes what he sees and envisions: “the mortar of stillness stiffening,/and my father, a quavering note/who has not risen, lives still.”
Finally, Flynn leaves us with this pithy epitaph of the place and the music that he knows better than any other — a poem appropriately entitled “The Blues.”
The dead name us,
taking the first fork they find and bending it to suit
their own peculiar path. Ever speak of this and their
voices run wild. Just ask anybody, wandering
half-lit by the moon on a country road at night,
where the shadows announce themselves and
disappear, their presence overblown in a land
scape of broken ruses, and the ending is the blues.
What can one say to such a naturally nostalgic insight as this, but “Amen!” And bravo to what Keith Flynn has undertaken and achieved in this collection. The appearance of Colony Collapse Disorder has surely launched Flynn’s literary ship. We can only raise our hands to the sky and, like the rising crane, wish him bon voyage.
Flynn to speak
Keith Flynn will be reading from and signing his new book at 6:30 p.m. April 5 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva and Blue Ridge books in Waynesville on April 20. His poetry has been featured in numerous journals and he has twice been named the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet for NC. Flynn is also the founder and managing editor of the Asheville Poetry Review.