- Weaving the Boundary by Karenne Wood
Karenne Wood's second collection of poems, Weaving the Boundary, builds on some of the dominant themes of her first, Markings on Earth, to powerful effect. Land, history, language, loss and questions of recovery, the meanings of intimacy in contexts that redefine the personal and communal—these are the concerns that compel a collection both beautiful and disturbing in which the beautiful and the disturbing are sometimes breathtakingly merged.
The two books' titles suggest their common grounding—"earth" and "boundary"—but "markings" and "weaving," noun and verb, intimate a subtle difference. The "markings on earth" of the earlier book's title poem are material relics, ruins, traces of ancient mounds, "remains / of ancestors" (Wood 27). Likewise, the title poem locates the book historically and emotionally in a particular known and loved place, Wood's Monacan tribe's Virginia homeland. The poems that begin and end the book, as well as most of its explicit geographical and cultural references to indigenous experience, affirm that location. Describing the book in this way, I do not intend to circumscribe its range or energy, only to suggest one way in which Weaving the Boundary represents a somewhat different kind of project, albeit with important shared concerns.
The new book's epigraph, from a poem by Czesław Miłosz, identifies the book's "boundary" in terms that exceed any notion of physically mark- able signifiers: [End Page 102]
For from what could we weave the boundaryBetween within and without, light and abyss,If not from ourselves.
These lines imagine a boundary as dynamic, movable, perhaps meditative; made of "ourselves," it is both intimate and collective, and it is offered as a question. The boundary may be "between," but it may shift, as the terms it presumably separates may shift. Thus the epigraph and title together suggest that this book will be less about memorializing or otherwise responding to "markings" and more engaged in a process of creating changeable possibilities. Again, rather than wishing to imply that Weaving the Boundary departs from the vitality of concrete, material experience, as it surely does not, I mean to suggest something of how its engagements with such experience might differ, subtly, from those of the earlier book.
This book doesn't have a title poem, but it does have two poems named to echo its title. Each evokes a dynamic that plays on the possibilities suggested by the epigraph. "Boundary," dedicated to Wood's deceased father, turns on the interplay of geographic boundaries ("I map America / as homage to you") and emotional ones: it speaks of "homage," self-forgiveness (and implicitly, then, guilt as well as grief), and "Love: absolute and impotent" (14). "The Weaving," one of the book's most freely, fluidly formed pieces, embodies motion and the crossing of sensory and "genre" boundaries as it illustrates its epigraph, "A basket is a song you can see" (51).
Weaving the Boundary has four sections. The first, "To Keep Faith," establishes the grounds for the book as a whole; its poems move from affirmations of life, continuance, and love to knowledge of loss, injustice, and oppression. Questions of language—its powers, meanings, tensions, constraints—and of recovery—its possibilities and limits—infuse these poems. "Heights," the second section, turns toward an intensely personal focus, evoking moments in a relationship while at the same time insisting that the personal not be imagined as separate from recollected histories or the cosmos itself:
We, who have been here nearlyforever, have traced the other's scars—willing to do anything to celebrate this fleshbefore saying yes to the dark iris sky, [End Page 103] the night in which enchanted wordsswirl like fire sparks above those swollenroots from which we rose.(29)
"Heights" serves as a bridge to part 3, "Past Silence," which moves chronologically through indigenous histories, beginning with Powhatan and Haudenosaunee creation stories that establish the grounds of civilizations disrupted by Europeans. These stories recall the end of the book's first poem, "Homeland...