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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

lure, nils michals

there is no greater pleasure for me than climbing the stacks of a new library and trying to find my way around. i am overcome with this trepidation that reminds me of my early undergraduate days at my big state university where everyone but me seemed to know where they were going and what they were doing. there were early weeks in the stacks there where i would tediously spend 40 minutes trying to locate a call number in the card catalogue (yes, the card catalogue) only to abandon my search in the stacks because the whole population of shelves and books just became too overwhelming. i read poetry before getting lost in the stacks, but i might have learned to love poetry in the stacks. i learned to love what i found, not necessarily what i was looking for. and what i found there, accidentally, was the poetry no one had told me about.

a few weeks ago, i finally finished filling out my new faculty paperwork, rearranging the furniture in my office to some suitable assemblage, copying the poems i want my students to take home and put in their heads, etc etc and decided it was time to tackle the library. i made 2 trips and brought home 22 books, 17 the first time, 5 the second (i was really supposed to be attending a faculty meeting on the 4th floor, so i had limited search time). i used my old methods, barring a few specific wants. among my happy accidents was lure, by nils michals.

when i sat on my couch and opened this book for the first time, i read it with the intention to scan, find whether it was worthy of a slow long read, or whether i should put it down for later when i could leap from page to page and find a few favorite lines. i read the book cover to cover. i was immediately intrigued by the language. my heart fluttered. yes, that's a cliche. but cliches are such because they are often true, and this book pulled my heart a little closer to my throat, giving my chest that feeling that it is simultaneously brimming and yet experiencing a thorough emptiness, a well between these two feelings, a surge, an oscillation of loss and gain, all at the same time.

i've been wanting to write an entry for lure from the first reading, but have been caught up in my own pull between loss and gain. because of my own struggle to go out into the world that expects me each day, i think lure has been a particularly important book to me. there have been moments when i am not so invested in the world, and so i cleave to anything that makes me feel anchored in the world, especially the natural world. i find, also, that i have an intolerance for the tender, the beautiful, unless it is somehow tempered with a petulant mettle. michals' natural world is this, tempered with mettle, and yet, as easy as the underside of a leaf. and so, i will ask you to read this without talk about the work line for line. i will not offer you my own similies and metaphors to recapitulate what michals does all too well. but i will give you this opening poem:

What comes off the sea recalls nothing
of loving a world and for those with eyes
wishing something other than what is seen
it says: listen.
Comes off the sea and does not care, says accept
there may or may not be a hand
in this: a taste of spray,
salt, some origin no longer
encompassing us with calm, says
you are on your own now.
And the shy-grown citizens. City of harbors.
What comes off the sea has tinned the sea
wide and for miles like wheat blown one direction.
Off the sea, the distance it has glassed
faltering, comes near to ask
Who are you, and after you answer,
just sea, air,
nowhere in the giftbearing world a voice
having said salt, water
and in not saying, not a thing we may call quiet,
no voice having sung.

this book is not simply a collection of poems, it is a study. it is a project. it is a well knitted sweater whose intricacies are often obscuredd by a lush surface. there is so much here, so much. go find this book. go now.