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This points to what is possibly Ferma Red's greatest weakness: its lack of dialogue. Earling lets us know what her rich, varied characters are thinking but almost nothing of how they express it. Rather, she uses beautiful language to convey what is fundamentaUy inchoate and so shows us not only what Louise knows but how she knows what she knows. Given Earling's lovely, expressive writing, the best way to enjoy Ferma Red is to surrender to it—to let it puU you like a Ughtning flash on a distant mountain range. Like sunrise spreading over a valley. Like a river named Flathead flowing through Montana. (PS) Still Life with Waterfall by Eamon Grennan Graywolf, 2002, 72 pp., $14 (paper) In Still Life with Waterfall, Eamon Grennan takes his cue from Pierre Bonnard, the French painter considered to be the last Impressionist, and in doing so Ulustrates the troubled relationship between artist and subject . The epigraph to hispoem "Why?" quotes Bonnard as saying, "I like to create a painting round an empty space"; and indeed, after looking at enough of that painter's nudes and landscapes, you begin to suspect the bright colors and decorative scenery. It's as if anything gloomier were detiberately withheld. Grennan's own writing has a charm comparable to Bonnard's, although he's much more careful to break his own speU. The poet tips us off early to his mixed view of nature. The first poem in the coUection, "At Work," strives to overthrow the sweetness of the book's title. Grennan describes a marshhawk"patrolling/possibiUty," soaring above the "marsh hay" and "dune grass." The tranquU scene is immediately disrupted as the hawk dives and the reader, mentally strapped to its back, goes with it in search of a "scuttling minutiae of skin and innards." Grennan spares us none of the detaUs of the kiUing, down to the "gizzard, heart, and . . . bones, cracking/and snapping." For Grennan, the natural world is both beautiful and vexing, and very often dangerous to the touch. In "To Grasp the Nettle," for instance, the speaker describes hands that "burned/to find the cool indented sheU of flesh." In a commanding tone, the poem says to "Shake off even the sweat/ of memory," warning that "as long as they 'bear . . ./such hard evidence against you, your hands/ wiU not be steady and the thing wiU sting you." More than cautionary, these Unes point to Grennan's larger interest in the creative process. It's a concern that also appealed to Bonnard . For the painter who endured two world wars and the poor physical and mental health of his wife, the canvas remained a place to escape hardship. In a 1939 letter he wrote that "nature is the only consolation at this time," and it is exactly this evasion that Grennan takes issue with. In such poems as "Bonnard's Mirror" and "Bonnard's Reflection," he insinuates an unfaithfulness of the painter toward his subject. The latter poem says that "We faU love,/telling aU sorts of ties." In a tone increasingly hostile, the speaker refers to the "Howers on the down comforter/ 192 · The Missouri Review already hissing . . ./[what] they know to the flowers on the dawn curtain." In "After Rain," the final lines offer an important insight into Grennan's view of the creative struggle. He writes of "getting to the other side of turbulence," an indirect reference that stands up much better than some of his other, more seti-conscious comparisons to the process. In "Detati," the book's final poem, the speaker sounds opportunistic, if not possessive, as he describes a hawk's attack on a surprised robin. Though the observation leads him to "understand/how a poem can happen," the effect is that the bird almost seems caged in by the speaker 's attention. Here and elsewhere, a great deal of feeling gets sacrificed from the image. For the most part, however, Grennan 's coUection strikes the right balance . With Bonnard as a model, he shows the mistake of trying too hard to impose harmony on a subject rarely willing, and certainly not deserving, to be tamed. It's a task Grennan accomplishes...


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pp. 192-193
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