Monday, October 20, 2014

Recent Reads: Wintering Prairie by Megan Kaminski

Wintering Prairie by Megan Kaminski

Published by above/ground press, 2014.

and this poem will be a long one
will widen will drift like snow
like language like dribbles and artic chill
will stretch to Dakota fox alone in the field
to field mice buried deep
will follow the compass’s pull magnetic north

Even in this fragmented excerpt from the first page, Megan Kaminski’s momentum feels unstoppable, peering and pushing forward as both the stranded pedestrian and flurry. True to its name, Wintering Prairie pits the reader in the throes of weather and geography but merging those hopelessly broad forces in ways that feel fresh. Throughout, Kaminski presents the darkest, coldest season in clumps of active transformation, using small leaps of language to create a patchy vista. She doesn’t disguise the continental reach of her muse, either; eschewing recognizable beginnings and endings, Wintering Prairie picks up mid gust and surveys a relentless accumulation.

Double-spaced in page-long, single stanzas, these poems resist titles in favour of a lone capitalized opening word which, like a deep inhalation, distinguishes one tangent from the last. That stream-like layout reinforces the text’s linear examination, tracking the snowfall along a longitudinal stretch of Plains, Kansas.

Long shadows and sun-melt spread
across lawns across asphalt
neighborhood strip mall and shop
spread west past town into farm
past county line and field
cottonwoods on the river
switch grass and bluestem crowd
over limestone around barbed fence

With that notoriously flat topography in mind, the locomotive quality of Kaminski’s lens gains further traction. And the more ground she covers, the more her snow-covered redundancies create a white veil, erasing all but the corners and outskirts of things, and motivating our senses to fill in the blanks. We begin to understand Kaminski’s sense of place in lieu of an actual view; earthy peepholes (“water-logged field brown grass brown / twig on ground on branch”) and ephemeral senses (“hawk-call and chimney-smoke”) invoke signposts the reader can readily associate with, guiding us through a prismatic makeover.

I carry absence
I carry want
I carry body ache
on this bright day

Wintering Prairie doesn’t shy away from the season’s barren hostility and yet there’s a cozy, snowed-in feeling each time I pick it up. Kaminski scrubs her language clean of graceful qualifiers and the resulting hop-skip-jump prompts visceral, wide-eyed associations on the page. Examining cycles of climate and vulnerability, Wintering Prairie emboldens the landscape poem with an almost unrecognizable force.

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