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Cloud Physics

by Karen Enns

Using observation, technology, and reasoning, scientists can describe every aspect of the horizon, from the angle of light off the water to eras of time indicated by striations in the rocks jutting out of a bay. It takes a poet, however, to describe the horizon’s voice: “a low vibration / at the baritonic center of the past.”

indexIn her third collection, Victoria-based writer Karen Enns undertakes poetic inquiry as the science of the intangible, one that can measure “risk and flight in increments of faith” and locate “the space within us where even we don’t belong.” Subjecting every stimulus to the force of her imagination and varied, propulsive syntax, Enns produces striking synesthetic collisions, like “peonies of sound,” while intimating something beyond the reach of the senses: “something more / like soundlessness, / which isn’t really silence, / silence having substance, / a kind of width, silence having texture, / even scent sometimes.”

In “A Son’s Story,” a man drives his aging father to a cemetery way out of town “to hear the meadowlark one more time.” Written in a subtle iambic meter and woven through with internal rhymes, “A Son’s Story” uses a harmony of form and content to capture what Enns might call the texture of experience. For the father, the song of the meadowlark is inextricably bound with his memories of the location and the presence of his son.

The moment of observation itself is ultimately as diffuse and irreplicable as the observed subject, a challenge Enns integrates through the motif of looking twice, tracking minute disruptions in the landscape as much as the landscape itself. Her descriptions of nature tend to foreground its latent energies, resulting in lines that anticipate events rather than try to pin them down: “You say the trees will bud out soon and I listen for the opening vowels.”

Enns’s poetic methods do not always measure up to the subjects she seeks to apprehend. Inelegant constructions like “scorching plates of now-ness” weaken otherwise graceful poems. At times, she liberally pairs abstract pronouns like “what” and “if” with lofty nouns like “enormity” and “myth” in a way that feels
like vagueness passing as profundity. But, to the extent that Enns’s poems succeed in evoking the multifaceted nature of experience, Cloud Physics is an affirmation of poetry’s unique domain.