- There Now by Eamon Grennan
Eamon Grennan’s eleventh book of poetry, There Now, serves, as its title suggests, to assuage an increasingly febrile world. The poems here “settle ills and calm fevers” in a manner characteristic of Grennan, who once again infuses a Zen-like attentiveness to minute particulars with lush musicality. “Listen,” the volume’s opening poem, conjures the soundscape of Grennan’s Connemara home. It begins with a bovine “‘duologue’” rendered in a clabber of low vowels that dissolve suddenly to a higher pitched “nachtmusik” that mimics the “sky-high cry of one nightbird.”
The rest of the volume provides further confirmation of what we have long known: that Eamon Grennan is a maestro of the free-verse lyric. Yet however ample its consolations, There Now repeatedly challenges its readers, demanding that they attune themselves to whatever is there before them in the ephemeral present. The difficulty of that task is laid bare in Grennan’s frequent evocations of a pure animal-like immersion in the moment over against the distanciation of human consciousness. In “World Word,” as so often throughout this volume, it is birdsong that beckons towards the “sense-startling untranslatable there of the world as we find it.” From the commonplace to the exotic, robins to ocean-traveling mergansers, birds migrate throughout these poems. They serve for Grennan as an impossible ideal. For, as Rilke put it in his “Note on Birds,” “birds are the animals whose feelings have a very special, intimate familiarity with the outer world … [since] the bird does not distinguish between its heart and the world’s.” What imposes that distinction upon humans is the sense of their own finitude. Thus, in “Eyes Not at Rest,” the poet’s attention shifts quickly from a house finch back to himself as the abandoned bird feeder becomes a metronome whose “small / pendulum swings” and “persistent ticking sound” marks the inexorable passage of time.
In his attempt to arrest the flux so that its deliquescing panorama can be contemplated, Grennan repeatedly invokes the spirit of great artistic masters. Cézanne’s dictum, proclaimed in the “The Cézanne Minute,” provides the motto for Grennan’s poetic practice here and throughout his long career: “‘Breathe in now’ says Cézanne / as he eyeballs another brilliant square inch / of the perpetually unsettling here and now / gone world ‘and hold it.’” As the title of another poem, “Window World,” indicates, Grennan imports a painterly approach into his poetry even when it is not directly ekphrastic. In their framing of “spectral plentitude,” these poems do not seek to abrogate time so much as to capture its “kinetic flow.” The dynamism that has always characterized Grennan’s poems is intensified here, largely because of the formal innovation that distinguishes [End Page 154] this late volume from its precursors. Each of the sixty-two poems in There Now consists of a single sentence. Grennan deftly avoids the tangled knotted syntax that could easily have resulted from this stylistic stratagem. Instead, the buildup of clauses, the ubiquity of enjambments, the lack of caesuras propel the reader forward. In the absence of terminal punctuation, the line breaks, like stones in a stream, accelerate the poem’s flow. Often a counterpoint is established between coagulations of internal rhyme and alliteration and the propulsive lineation, as for instance in “Dead Redtail”:
Since under the wing-canopy spanning field after field our world was laid out once for her highbrightdeath-dealing eye to pasture on—who would ever have thought she could lie in such a small huddleas these shattered wings make with their feathers all matted from the wan-grey hawk-masculating mudand pale machine-made dust of the persistently sifted oil-stained diesel-scented earth of the Jersey Turnpike?
As this poem demonstrates, Grennan’s Taoist devotion to the flux of existence never blinds him to the wreckage that it leaves in its wake, whether it be a dead bird, or more significantly, a homeless...