As the title implies, Maria Takolander’s The End of the World makes no pretence at sweetness or ease. While there is certainly a tenderness in the poems of childbirth and domesticity that open the collection, but despite the maternal softness that draws the reader in from the start of many of these poems, the collection has an underlying ferocity which takes the reader below the superficial, into the heart of meaning as revealed by the intensity of each moment it encounters.
The seventy or so poems in this volume appear to have found their best translators in English. The translators and the editor are well-respected scholars and translators, who worked from the original texts; at least three of them are also poets in their own right. It is noteworthy that all four are based in different continents (viz., Asia, North America, and Europe) and have together put their expertise to a most fruitful use, with excellent results.
Working together each week the women built up their repertoire and began to hone their skills. The result is this anthology, which takes the best of their work, and presents, not only poetry, but a story about the writing process, a record of development, and a rather instructive and illustrative catalogue of poetic styles from Abecedarian to Cento, riddle poems to Tanka to Ekphrastic pieces.
There is the belief that dreams are ideas within the unconscious mind that push their way into the conscious mind. This Freudian classification of dreams is insufficient because it creates a “tight box” around what we think dreams are. Thankfully, there are writers like Helene Cardona that move beyond this box in their work. Similarly, Cardona’s poems challenge the narrative, often found in Western cultures, that sees human beings as dominant over and against all other animals. Left unchecked, this narrative creates separation between human beings and animals that, at the core, justifies and allows for the extinction of the latter.
Though each of the poems stands alone and indeed many of the poems in the collection were published individually, there is an underlying story that links the work together. This is a story of memory, loss, history and hubris. It’s a story about a new future and about the relics of the past that travel with us and are left behind as we transform – individually, and as a species. The poems are self-referential, memetic – with cultural ideas and motifs travelling from one poem to another, and metapoetic in a way that is somehow both humorous (at times) and profound.
In nearly all of the poems, the subject and object perform a dance where roles are reversed, aligned, torn, and reconfigured, always with a kind of skewed nourishment, as in “Strangled Collision” where the bread is the love object, imbibed and absorbed like wine and grains of rice, crushed down in a Strangler Fig embrace.
Sublime Planet includes a section called Sacred Lessons, Poems by Carolyn Howard-Johnson and one called Tipping Point with poems by Magdalena Ball. Two very different poets, very different styles of writing, have produced a collection united by their passion for environment, for the world that touches their skin and imbues them with its presence with every breath they take. This collection is their tribute to their world, both physical and mental; our world.
Though the description of the Nebula alone is worth the price of the book, this building up of smaller things into something larger, powerful, transformative, is exactly what Liquid Nitrogen does, taking the many cultural, political and literary characters and references, in order to create something large, complex, woven on a “spinning jenny.”
The senses are not only invoked, but mingled in such a way that the metaphors combine and grow, illuminating each moment presented in a full body experience. By the end of this book the reader feels drained, enlivened, wiser somehow, as if a full live had been lived between its pages.
It seems that traditional Japanese poetic genres such as haiku, tanka, haiga and haibun bear much in common with present-day global modes. Brevity and imagist impressions of nature are universal and don’t date. When I first looked at this book I thought “Why put all these modern western poets in a Japanese collection?” But on reflection I think that good poetry is universal.