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Book Review: The Slow Creaking of Planets and Meditations on Rising and Falling 

Some poets write with an urgency to show us a moment from ordinary life that would otherwise disappear. Gretchen Primack and Philip Pardi, visiting faculty at Bard College and authors of notable first books, are two such poets. A grocery store cleaning woman “reaches / over to fill her hand / with a shower of gold dried/apricots.” (Primack); “the man / buying beer at 8 a.m. /
all smiles.” (Pardi)

Primack’s chapbook The Slow Creaking of Planets begins by introducing Doris, one of the poet’s alter-egos, yearning for “an aviary of calling birds/the color of apples and oranges/Tonight, under the pitted planets.”

Interestingly, these alter-egos have animal as well as human qualities. What they share is an intensity for life, even as life ends. “Midnight,” the collection’s last poem, witnesses the death of a “mixed Briquet Griffin Vendeen,” who, like Doris, yearns toward the stars. “But that was the night she gave over / to space, let the pulley of notes raise her as far / as she could go, and stayed…” while Orion “slipped out of the bowl, / leaving only his glittering belt unbuckled.”

Primack’s vision is of connectedness in an attentive universe: “Wasn’t grief stuffed / into the marrow / of each trunk? But wasn’t the trunk sugared in joy?” Although often playful, the work can be edgy; the color Chartreuse becomes “A squint. A pint of over-frozen. / Contracted glands. A squirt.” Primack’s rich poems often surprise.

Philip Pardi’s Meditations on Rising and Falling, winner of the 2008 Brittingham Poetry Prize, also emphasizes relatedness—particularly, as the title suggests, in the context of bird flight. “We drop as vultures rise embracing what is offered.”

Observations become vehicles for philosophical speculation. “Sonata,” in language as musical as its title, depicts a birdwatcher befuddled, perhaps by love. “We’ve come to a place where I cannot name the birds / and because I look constantly / for tanagers (scarlet/or hepatic) here where they have no reason to be, / I see them constantly, / mistakenly/ in olive groves, small fig trees, in swift scattered dispersal.”

A discussion of ornithology in “Drinking with My Father in London” reveals the closeness among three men. “Wilfred, who is dying” remarks: “Flight is easy, he says, lifting his cap, but / landing—he tosses it at the coat rack / landing is the miracle. Would you believe / thirty feet away the cap hits / And softly takes in the lone bare peg?”

Birdlike, the cap alights, while Wilfred considers the darker aspects of “landing:” “I’d like to come back as a bird, Wilfred says. You already / were a bird once, / Wilfred….Next time you get to be the whole damn flock.” And this reader found herself in tears.

Pardi’s concern with the lived moment is nowhere more evident than in his characterizations: a roofer frees a fly from tarpaper just before he himself falls; Don Pedro, a migrant farm worker, holds out his pesticide-soaked shirt to “the man with the clipboard;” a speaker notes his infant son “laughs / whenever I laugh / on faith / …also learning when to make a fist.” Pardi’s vision, ironic in its depiction of life’s difficulties, is “a testimony of faith and resistance in the world where ‘falling is the given.’”

Primack and Pardi will read on August 9, 2pm, at the Woodstock Town Hall.

click to enlarge Finishing Line Press, 2007, $12.
  • Finishing Line Press, 2007, $12.
click to enlarge The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, $14.95
  • The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, $14.95

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