Saturday, December 03, 2011

Poetry Book Review: A Journey Taken in Grace Toward Love Where Bodies Again Recline by Harry Northup

A review by Sanora Bartels

Where Bodies Again Recline by Harry Northup takes up where his last volume of poetry Red Snow Fence left off.  In 2006, I reviewed that volume and wrote this about the last section of the book:

While the first two thirds of the book is grounded in the physical daily realities, the last third of Red Snow Fence takes us on a journey of night visions, which seem to me to be part memory, part premonition.

In Where Bodies Again Recline the premonition is realized and we are taken to the next level of evolution. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the title poem where bodies again recline:

in the primacy of law, the bootleg
version, there will be no superiority
of money, of celebrityhood, of
loss, lack, ignorance, rigidity, simple
down home rootedness

there will be listening to one another
recognition of brotherhood, a will-
ingness to see past vertical mobility

Straightforward enough — but that is always the way of spiritual truth.  The ideal is simple, the practical application, more difficult.  This yearning for kindness, for meaning, for a way to hold on and let go all at once, plays out in much of Northup’s poetry as in gifts:

it rained as it always does for a
funeral — careers die, youth dies,
trust dies, money decays brotherhood

all holiness must die & be reborn
in new roads, new rains, — memory
remains blackness itself
memory strengthens kindness

The voice is one that has lived a life full of love, full of connection, both to friends and family, knowing that loss is often necessary for growth.  In the second section of the book, titled “white bird above fire”, that loss is no longer limited to the individual. It is a communal loss that may feel overwhelming, where recovery feels nearly impossible as expressed in single white bird above fire:

fires burning, crowns across the
sea — plane, with burning wing, flies
a star hoisted, props the plane,
cradles it — through all our arms,...

…we elect parts of ourselves & deny

blessings; the golden city on an island
does not include our neighbors’ vote
should he be less wealthy, less like our
desire — we measure hearts with ring

sizes — for often hearts are rubble…

…knives of light surround our descent
what was killed remains hidden — it
tears at freedom — columns fall,
tumble, & a long crescent, like

antlers, forms a cradle around the

blue light moon — …

The poem ends with:

deliver me, white bird, white house
forgive the ache, the one long sharp
arrow on fire, cross, field burning

It hints at an America that, years later, is still reeling from attack, steeped in cynicism, in a defensive posture and Northup asks for the ability to move forward with grace.

What struck me throughout the volume were the sweeping images, the visuals soaring and then swooping along the horizon of the reader’s imagination. If Red Snow Fence invoked passing memory, then Where Bodies Again Recline lifts that memory into what can only be called a collective consciousness that kindles spiritual epiphany, as in what was lost, gained:

all ways everlasting, revelations,
glory, earth, river — sky with golden
explosions — one turning diamond in
fire, body compressed, human-like,
with propellers, triangles turning
spinning out most of blackness, stars

The repetition of arrows, of light, of wings, and always the spinning activity, lifted me into ether, that moment of possibility, that snapshot of motion — the eternal “now” in like a breeze the final caress:

a crown, nest revolving, upward
path shoots & two horizontal half-
circles meet, waterfall wings
tree-like motion spins

red grapes, clusters around golden
center, night with stan getz playing
“alfie,” breeze, no high humidity,
“what a difference a few degrees

This poetry is a balance of memory and that certain future we visualize, forget, but then somehow hold dear - figure, human-length rises:

white light above many figures
heart, soul, words, real gold, sorrow
nowhere, death nowhere, nothingness
white light out of opened coffin
sprinkling gold dust, death joy

A word of warning, I have not taken you step by step through each section, I have not stayed true to the path of the poet in his manuscript.  Instead, I have been like the hawk in blue final

hawk flies, white propeller moves
like shark in blue waters, smooth
& turns quickly — long white wings
in wind’s lit path — hurries home

The poet takes us on a spinning spiritual journey, populated by wings & arrows & stars and then turns toward home. Harry Northup ultimately leads us to Where Bodies Again Recline, toward grace and joy and most important, toward love.

Where Bodies Again Recline by Harry Northup is published by Cahuenga Press and is Harry Northup’s 10th book of poetry.

Sanora Bartels received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from North Dakota State University and her Masters of Professional Writing Degree from University of Southern California.  She is a co-founder of and runs a weekly writers’ group. Her chapbook of poetry is titled The Order of Things.

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