The poems in Jennifer Atkinson’s Canticle of the Night Path, collected in alphabetical order from “Canticle of A” to “Canticle of Zed,” are little songs of five—five lines, five sentences, five couplets, or five paragraphs—canticles to, for, with, and of all sorts of things. There are Canticles to Chipped Plates, to Dust, with Eyelashes, with Macaroons, of Rhymes, Rushes, Slippage, Stone, Shrapnel and Manna. Woven throughout the book, along with a series of Parables as if excerpted from her teachings, is the legendary figure of Mary Magdalene, as painted by Giotto and re-imagined as a teacher of embodied spiritual and intellectual practice. Some canticles are lyric improvisations quick with rhyme, allusion, and wordplay. Others are meditative investigations of darkness, pleasure, cruelty, or joy. All are acts of fierce attention to language, the musical possibilities of the lyric line, and the natural world, built and unbuilt.
Jennifer Atkinson’s The Thinking Eye, looks at the syntax of our living, evolving world, paying close attention to the actual quartz and gnats, the goats and iced-over, onrushing rivers. The poems also look at the looking itself—how places and lives become “landscapes” and the ways the lenses of language, art, ecology, myth, and memory—enlarge and focus our seeing. If it’s true, as Gaston Bachelard says in The Poetics of Space, that whether a poet looks through a telescope or a microscope, [she] sees the same thing, then what Atkinson sees is an earth filled with violence and beauty, human malice and ten thousand separate moments of joy. Clearly in love with the earth and the (English) language—all those inter-dependent lives and forms—Atkinson pays attention to both with a Bishoppy eye, a Hopkinsy ear, and an ecopoet’s conscience. Behind the book’s sharp images and lush music creaks Chernobyl’s rusty Ferris wheel.
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