Mary Kasimor

A review of rob mclennan's A halt, which is empty

ISBN 9781771262200
$17.00 CDN/USA
132 pages
Mansfield Press

rob mclennan’s new collection of poetry, A halt, which is empty, reflects the poet’s sense and feeling for the land. and how humans construct and interpret our world and place. Do we ever really experience that what is in that world as constant, or does it change through our human experiences, or are these experiences the same but different? I wonder how we experience the emptiness of place, which is never really empty, nor is it ever completely full. Even though we may not have words to describe it is —whatever it is, we see it again—and it changes and becomes something different. Place shifts and then shifts again. This place, this locale, this space, this ground and sky all become something known after we have seen it and after it has become an experience.

According to mclennan (and history), in the early 1800’s people began exploring and living on this land in what were the early days of Ottawa, Ontario. In this collection of poetry, mclennan gives us a descriptive feeling of what the land means through the description of the men at this historical place in time: “Voyageurs and kinsmen” and Brand of hearty, men,” who live with “the boiling water,” and we are told what these hearty men have become or becoming as part of the history. Besides the discovery of “new” land, mclennan takes us away with his scattered but concisely chosen words. He uses “parable/ of chance” perhaps to inform the reader that many experiences can be construed from within the language and place. One can describe a place as beautiful and interesting through the choice of words, or one can make it empty and without a hint of breath, and simply a void. mclennan gives us the dream of what we might want to see through metaphor or function—through poetry and prose, giving the reader vignettes of place, fact, and emotion, and all that relates to human beings. We gather meaning through poetic meaning: “Artichoke, a stump. Break everything. Opposing mobs, they met at Sapper’s Bridge: ”A town, I wonder.)” The reader is given some direction of where this place is and how the poet suggests his attitude toward this place. Part of this place is specific—Sapper’s Bridge, and then a vague and shadowy place is only identified as “A town, I wonder.”

One of the most interesting images that mclennan “creates” is “Eternity. A printed image.” I will interpret that as implying that eternity is created when we are able to describe it. It parallels the idea or question that simply asks: if there is no one in the forest when a tree falls, does that mean it never happened? Is it humans who become entangled in their words and thus forcing ourselves to stay focused on the subtlety of language? I do not know the history or the landscape of the land/place or culture, but I get a sense of the history and the geography of the place. mclennon alludes to words as describers, despite the words appearing to be random, or perhaps the poet has a reason for creating this text. Depending upon our life experiences, we do get some sense of place through visual language.

Ultimately mclennan’s poetry tantalizes, and it creates more possibilities in so far as how area, space, and land become familiar through suggestion and thus opens up the place to other interpretations of all that is possible. The language is set up and located on the page so that the readers can find themselves in the text and part of the text while developing strategies to read and interpret the page. While reading mclennan’s book, I was reminded of William Carlos William’s book, Paterson, which opened up many possible interpretations as his poetry was very innovative and new. I also see and read mclennan’s collection of poetry as being experimental, and I don’t expect everything—or anything to be linear and logical—and it isn’t. The language and the layout of the language suggest ideas in a non-linear way. I have enjoyed the playfulness of these poems, evoking place and history. I have followed mclennan’s places as people and their poetry made the land their homes and the land became dirt beneath their fingernails..

Mary Kasimor has been writing poetry for many years. Her poetry has been published in journals, including Word For/Word, Touch the Donkey, Posit, Human Repair Kit, Arteidolia (collaboration with Susan Lewis), and Otoliths. Her recent poetry collections are The Landfill Dancers (BlazeVox Books 2014), Saint Pink (Moria Books 2015), The Prometheus Collage (Locofo Press 2017), and Nature Store (Dancing Girl Press 2017). She has a new book out published by BlazeVox Books, entitled Drink Me. She is also a reviewer of many small press poetry collections.
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