The Shape of Wind on Water: New and Selected Poems
by Ann Fox Chandonnet
73 Poems ~ 1 Essay ~ 204 pages
Price: $20.00
Publisher: Loom Press
ISBN #: 978-0-931507-52-6
To Order: Loom Press or Amazon.com


Reviewed by Michael Escoubas


I remember with great fondness going on fishing trips with my Dad and brothers to Minnesota. (We flatlanders from Illinois have nowhere near the lake selections offered by our neighbor to the north.) Much to the consternation of my Dad, I was less concerned with catching fish than with the remarkable acrobatics of the natural world … the way the wind did magical things with water. I was enchanted by waves and whitecaps, swirls and curls, dips and dives that captured my fancy more than landing a three-pound walleye ever could.

I thought about such things as I wrapped my mind around Ann Fox Chandonnet’s The Shape of Wind on Water: New and Selected Poems. An intriguing question began to form as I sat and as I thought: “Is the shape of wind on water to be taken literally or spiritually? Or perhaps a little of both? More on this later.


Structure

“New” poems are gathered under four headings: People, Places, Correspondence and Harvest. “Selected Poems,” are drawn from six of Chandonnet’s previous collections: The Wife & Other Poems (1976), The Wife: Part 2 (1979), Ptarmigan Valley: Poems of Alaska (1980), At the Fruit-Tree’s Mossy Root (1980), Auras, Tendrils (1984), and Canoeing in the Rain (1990).


A word about The Octopus, An Essay

Reviewers seldom advise their readers about how to read the books they review. Notwithstanding this cardinal rule, I offer a rare recommendation: Begin at the back of the book. In this captivating essay Chandonnet describes the people, places and experiences that, in her words, “made me, me.” You won’t want to miss the very last entry which explains the octopus.

At the risk of seeming to “run the poet into a corner,” I perceive Chandonnet’s work as being born out of the crucible of the natural world, maturing and evolving into the world of the human spirit. She looks for and finds correspondence between the visible outer world and the inner, invisible world of human experiences. One of her poems, “The Poet as the Letter P: Stevens Requests More Prunes,” sounds like the man himself, writing in tedious detail about prunes: the time of year for them, how much they weigh, how they should look, their numerous uses, and how Elsie, in her peignoir, will enjoy them on Sunday morning. Wallace Stevens excelled at writing poems which merge Nature and Spirit. So does Ann Fox Chandonnet.

Chandonnet is a poet of “people, as well as a poet of “place.” Her fascinating life with roots in Massachusetts (on a dairy farm), Alaska’s rich landscape (34 years), and Wisconsin (where she published her first book), provide a deep well from which she draws her lyrics.

Her lead poem, “Snow Water Under Culverts,” is perfect given the foundation laid above. “Snow Water,” is about her father and begins:

         Everything is hard, gray, frozen here,
         but in his country snow water trickles in culverts,
         caching bits of bone swept from fields,
         nutrients hard won–
         the first scent of spring (wet dirt),
         and the tooth-numbing, palm-tingling ditch draught,
         spicules of ice in it still,
         refreshing as a McIntosh.

It is as if Chandonnet devotes her opening octave to contours which shape the fascinating man she loves. But he is something of a mystery to the young girl who marvels at what she sees. This poem of 109 lines never flags as the poet merges elements of “her world,” into a profile of devoted love. In poignant lines she pays tribute to a man of few words:

         Deeds were Dad’s speech:
         his sixteen hours of sweat a day,
         his neck eroded into arroyos by weather,
         his shoes like Leninist bronzes of shoes,
         his shins knobby from cows’ kicks,
         the trim body he weighed every morning,
         he handsome hands tough as the emery wheel
         that honed axes and scythes,
         the sound of that wheel,
         and the hard water dripping onto it
         from a rusty can.
         A workman and his tools–
         a diligent cathedral mason.

Get a Kleenex ready for Chandonnet’s gentle closure on this one.
 

Moving into “Selected Poems,” a different tone greets me. Drawing from works going back to 1976, we experience the poet as a young wife and mother. These poems resonate in memories of where my wife and I were in the mid-70s. For example, from, “The Wife”:

         Sitting on her desire,
         which throbbed like an alarm clock,
         the wife tried to concentrate on Time.
         Or standing on it,
         a white square in a ring of black ones
         dappling the supermarket produce sale,
         artichokes and Muzak tugging at her panties,
         she tried to decipher a suddenly meaningless list:
         squash,
         ammonia,
         tuna fish,
         nutmeg.
 

Throughout “Selected Poems,” Ann Chandonnet weaves a fascinating web of life, “as it is,” when Nature and Spirit merge and converge. In “Peas” I hear the pings as they hit the bottom of the bucket:

         Sitting on the screened porch,
         cane seat cool against the backs
         of hot knees,
         the crisp crack of green dorsal lines
         under thumb,
         and the low spreading thunder
         of peas
         into big aluminum pans.
 

Is The Shape of Wind on Water to be taken literally or spiritually, or perhaps a little of both? This reviewer trusts his readers to decide. As for your reviewer, his life will never be quite the same again.


 


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