Book of poetry has a disturbing beauty
If the saying “timing is everything” is true, then John Lane’s new collection of poems by Mercer University Press is right on time.
Titled Anthropocene Blues after the new scientific term for the new geological age we’ve just entered into, these poems are told from the perspective of a traveling geologist as he sings the blues of our epoch in a Keatsian voice and about how we humans are taking ourselves down along with everything around us.
This is not an apocalyptic book about the collapse of human existence on the planet, but it is a wakeup call, which has been the role of the poet for many millennia as the harbinger of good and bad news. In these 62 pages traveling from the Abacos to Hangzhou amidst puff mud and dead cordgrass, we witness rivers intoxicated with dioxide, deep floods, books made of wood pulp rotting on shelves, cliffs of Croatian limestone, island beaches littered with empty bathtubs, the remains of rampant wildfire, landfills and business districts of decay. Here we meet Walt Whitman, Byron and Mary Shelly sifting through the rubble for subject matter for their poems.
On the other side of the Anthropocene coin we have poems such as “Cirque of the Towers” and a dreamlike trip to Wolf’s Head, Pingora and Mitchell Peak in the Wind River Range in Wyoming; the elucidated landscape along the Hudson River shore; Cumberland Island; Key Largo; a Dixie Hummingbirds concert in Spartanburg, South Carolina; maypops and songbirds in the deep South swamps.
For the naturalists, there are quotes and references to and by W.C. Sebald, Peter Mattheissen, E.O. Wilson, Aldo Leopold. And for poetry lovers there is A.R. Ammons, Auden, Robert Haas, Nikki Finney and Robert Frost.
So this book has a little something for everyone, which is typical of John Lane’s style and holistic view of the world and of life. Contrary to the idea that people are “the planet’s boss” and “emperors of the air,” instead what we have is a Jackson Pollack painting of places and ideas. A collage of Robert Turner meets Buddha and Thomas Berry in a novel by Dan Brown. This is a page-turner in the sense that there’s something new and different to be discovered on every page. A new experience and exploration as we humans move ever closer to The Sixth Extinction.
In Anthropocene Blues Lane wants us to look at our shortcomings but also wants to show us the beauty that surrounds us and how different our lives could be if we would but acknowledge our limitations and embrace our surroundings instead of destroying them. In “The Geologist Anticipates the End of Time” Lane writes:
“Where there is water there is magic. Where there is magic
there are always frogs ,especially in the tropics twenty
species call like sharp whistling voices of lost Mayan
gods —The distended yellow eyes of the holy tree frog, royal
digits, open mouths like burial urns.”
And in “Erosion” he asks:
“Is geology the story we should put our hominid minds to?
Is the Anthropocene us or are we all? Is geology poetry?
Is the latest species’ cha-cha toward oblivion our unrattled success?
Is this age the joke our sapien ancestors wouldn’t get?”
Much like Thelonius Monk’s “Blues For Tomorrow” and “Blue Monk,” Anthropocene Blues hits many unexpected sharps and flats. It takes us into places we didn’t expect to go. Yet, we come to the end of Lane’s literary tune feeling uplifted, enlightened, albeit disturbed. Only a poet could pull this off, and according to the many endorsements contained in this book Lane would seem to have succeeded.
But the reader has to be the judge of that. So don’t just take my word for it, let’s let Mr. Lane have the last word. I leave you with the last stanza from the poem “The Geologist Anticipates the End of Time”:
Trust the scripture of travel, of mystery and diversity, the
frog night come back strong of animal voices of a thousand
worldly gods. Live with contrast. Go south to learn. Make
your way home, changed, through sloughs, past the shell-blue Caribbean, pale pink condominiums, and praise
the holy sun distended above the Gulf —
Meet the poet
John Lane will be at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov.10 read from, discuss and sign copies of his book.