Selecting and arranging poems for a volume can be an enlightening experience, especially if they were written independently, one by one, with no overarching plan to unify them. As a result, you might find a particular piece blazing magnificently but nothing to follow in its path. You might want more in a particular vein or find you have way too many. One thing I’ve seen in my life is how often some line was emerging just as I had to pack up and move on – literally, sometimes cross-continent.

There are times, though, when new patterns appear in the process. I found that happening with In a Heartbeat and its associated Animal Kingdom poems, some of which appear in other collections.

As I said at the time …

Let these poems celebrate that attentive range. American aborigine perspectives surface, starting with an annual cycle of sojourning for food (“Hunting and Gathering,” with its Californian ethnology) and moving into mythopoetic rootstock (“Chinook Cooking Legerdemain,” “Tip for Rabbit,” “After the Fact”). In this balance, large mammals have a special place – whales (the two parts forming “Slick Slack” and “Over Stellwagen Bank”) and bears, especially, (“Primer for Bear,” “In Big-Belly Land,” and “After the Fact”).

Belying its penchant for right-wing political rhetoric, the American Far West subsists largely on federal government services and facilities. Many of these necessitate large tracts – spaces reserved for logging, prospecting, and mining; hunting and trapping; open livestock grazing; the collection, storage, and distribution of water for agricultural irrigation and for varied metropolitan usage; hydroelectric production; military field operations; Native American enclaves; recreation and tourism. A largely uninhabited Interstate highway system links far distances, again with federal subsidy.

The innate tension between collective action and freewheeling – even reckless – impulsiveness animates this collection. Just as spectacular panoramas more than intricate particulars dominate Western vision, in these poems contemporary actions are cast against a vaster background of ancient understanding. “Elk Management” specifically addresses the uneasy interplay that permits the game herds to thrive within modern society while also celebrating timeless hunting rituals and practices. “One Piece at a Time” contrasts traditional Native American and science-based thought systems as they probe conflicts of sexuality, family, and age. “United States Department of the Interior,” largely a “found poem” in patronizing bureaucratic language, displays urban side-effects arising as visitors swarm over our public lands. Like trendy restaurants, national parks are posting “Reservations Required” notices. Even so, as other pieces attest, a resourceful person can still hazard boundless mountains, rivers and lakes, free range, and clouds looming in solitude and release. Just watch out for the prospector’s stake.

Biblical perspectives also enter, as happens in “Elijah in Late Winter” (I Kings 17:17-19:14) now found in my Elders Hold chapbook.


In a Heartbeat

For In a Heartbeat, click here.


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