Let me give the "housekeeping" details first: Kevin Goodan's new 10-poem book, in its crisp tan wraps and elegant letterpress pages with lush textured endpapers, is available for just $7 plus shipping, from Factory Hollow Press -- a collaborative effort led by Dara Weir and now offering ten different books, as well as Weir's broadside. Visit the press site at www.factoryhollowpress.com -- here's its statement of purpose:
Factory Hollow Press publishes chapbooks and broadsides in limited editions. Factory Hollow is the publishing division of Sleepy Lemur Quality Enterprises which is the production division of The Meeteetzee Institute. The press is located in North Amherst, Massachusetts. Works published are gathered by invitation; unsolicited work won't be returned or acknowledged, not that we mean to be unfriendly, it's just that we are a very small, private operation. We hope our work encourages others to themselves publish work in small editions.
Goodan's first collection, In the Ghost-House Acquainted, braided the Montana landscape of his childhood and years as a forest fire-fighter with wintery tragedies and successes of lambing and, as a third strand, his adopted landscape of Amherst, Mass. He spoke also from family ties within the Flathead Indian community and named much of the grief in the losses that Western tribes suffer. This first book (Alice James, 2004) won the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award.
In contrast, THINE EMBERS FLY is a small 10-poem collection with an outer calm and neat format, elegantly but sparsely decorated. The opening acknowledgments give both a heart's lurch of delight and a warning of soul work to come:
The author would like to thank Factory Hollow Press and the following people: Theodore Roethke, John Clare, Teresa of Avila, Joan of Arc, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, the authors of the Nag Hammadi Library, and Kimberly Burwick.
The poems that follow are interrupted with short feathers of text from each of these except Burwick (a poet in Goodan's closest circle). The first is, "And our thoughts became lambs," from Merton.
Goodan's opening poem is "We Pass and They Pass / And Slow the World Abides." It places him lost in a ruined harvest field, mouldering from rain.
[...] I stood still long enough
To see each history and each bird,
The ones that appear
Tattered from some journey
Which is their final going,
Those that will reach
And to the questions that follow these images -- questions like "Do you want to outride / The riders of your life?" -- Goodan poses the next piece as reply: "Thus I Am Called, / Thresher to the Fields." Is it Goodan or God replying? Hear the resonance of the King James Bible: "For I am the link / And the radius of the link / That bears the reduction of complication." "For I am a beam-axle glowing / With spiral roll and rigid pinion / To counter the slant of sidehills / Should I be forced to shift / Into the Lord's high gear."
Then through pages that draw on lambing in snowy season, and a barn fire, and the absence of God on a dark rainy morning, we reach with Goodan "A Sigh for Avila" -- "Grackle will grackle, no matter, the sun / And weeds, our lovely strangers / Will come to us with love." He queries Teresa of Avila herself, the "little sister" to St. Francis, noting the possibility of being one with something even as abandonment settles into the bones.
And when this fierce small collection ties its final knots of invitation, it does so first with "Come Take These Words From Me," a mournful reflection on what and who used to be there, compressed as in an engine cylinder until it explodes in this central question:
Our saws are sharp, never idle long
And through the day we feed fires
Transforming field-jumble into lines.
Far faces bleared by fire, who are you
That the bright mares of language stride forth in their flames?
Fighting fires in the West surely fueled this writing, and I pondered for some time the contrast between facing a fire alone -- whether on the hearth or in a house conflagration -- and being part of a team of friends, allied against the towers of flame. Which are we as we seek meaning in our lives? As this year of war and rumors of war wraps up, do we take "the scent of flesh carbonized by flame" -- as in Goodan's final poem, "Something Is Always Saying Hello" -- to be the wind of Baghdad pursuing us across the ocean? Or the soul-sign of Joan of Arc?
This precisely framed collection fosters intensity in both its questions and its very personal answers. Its use of language and the bird presences in particular ignite joy. It's well worth adding to the shelf, placed perhaps between Hopkins and Auden, or between Dylan Thomas and Donald Revell. The words of others are of great help as we struggle to make sense of our lives. Still, it is our own words that define us at last. In placing his on the pages for us all, Goodan has lifted his lines toward prayer or praise.
May the new year ahead be as rich for us all.