Thriveni C Mysore reviews Intatto.Intact by Massimo D’Arcangelo, Anne Elvey and Helen Moore

Massini D’Arcangelo, Anne Elvey, and Helen Moore, Intatto.Intact. Ecopoesia. Ecopoetry. Edited and translated from English by Francesca Cosi and Alessandra Repossi. Translated from Italian by Todd Portnowitz. Foreword by Serenella Iovino. Milano: La Vita Felice, 2017. ISBN: 9788893461900

 

Thriveni C Mysore

 

Intact is not just a book of ecopoetry, it is a powerful expression of exasperation in words of an Opera, a ‘libretti’, with their ‘librettists’, Massimo D’ Arcangelo, Anne Elvey, Helen Moore. Like in true Opera, the poets’ structured vocals raises the reader’s mind to an exalted state, simultaneously pushing the subconscious to guts, leaving behind a rage of helplessness as felt when reading:

These things are not intact: air

and wing and bird, habitat

and human, stone and moss.

(Elvey, 18)

Wipes his smile dry. Something evil’s

in his eyes. Monster balanced on two legs. He kneels.

Skins a fox alive inside its den. Wants the fur all for

himself.

(D’Arcangelo, 26)

plastic/metal/paper/glass;

cast tea-bags, hair-balls, peelings

 

into the red, thrashing mass …

(Moore, 38)

Like painting which draws admiration by the resemblance of things of which we do not admire the originals, Anne Elvey’s poetry draws the readers’ attention to Nature. Attention to natural things so long given to  perverted understanding  by human society. Like breath on winter glass, it obscures the reader’s apathy towards one’s own surrounding system. Hence, an untold heaviness settles when the curtain raises to ‘Intact’:

These things are not intact: air

and wing and bird, habitat

and human, stone and moss.

 

 

A garbage truck lifts

its arm and groans. There is

 

a wattlebird perched outside

looking as whole as a loss

(extinction) I believe.

(18)

That sense of ‘loss’ to living world is of human making, a truth that stings and it is then that ‘the tremor under the skinny breast’ (18) is felt by the reader.

The poet hisses in her poem, ‘Kin and Feral’:

… I hiss

 

at the cat, poison the rat, and look for

the rainbow lorikeet. In the costal banksias

its high note hangs over the muddled

 

garden. Its blue crown darts into

the loquat. Nearby the apple is fruiting.

I will net the tree.

(24)

The poet is yodelling about human avarice. A dozen lives live by, at any given moment, at any given place of human settlement, but human eyes can only see the ‘damage’ behind each and not the abundant symphony in Nature.

Blood shot pair of eyes of the poet adds crimson to her voice in the poem, ‘Mining Mining Mining’. As the oxides of carbon burn, raising difficulties in breathing of all things that breathe in this natural world, feeding enough oxygen to starving lungs, the poet says:

Plumes were slick with unbecoming

(ill ill) illness gave only to silence

 

An eagle swept the atmosphere –

pelican and musk duck crossed the skies

under a sooty sun

(40)

The poet asks to be the sufferer, feel the suffered by breaking:

Might we fall out of silence

to be the burn

to be the rock blasted

sheer from the surface

of the stone

(42)

The poem ‘Mortal Mortal’ that breathes ‘the dank air of plastic, compost and rust’ (64) also addresses the very real happening (without alternate truths) of spoilt rivers, habitat burning, over-population of some species as a chancy mechanism for survival, hunting and damages incurred. When the poet calls forth Lazarus, it is to the climatic narrative of exemplifying the power ‘over the last and most irresistible enemy of humanity – death’. The poet begins ‘Mortal Mortal’:

Quick the destination of our deaths. …

(64)

The poet then leads on to Lazarus, she is lamenting the death of humanity in humans and asks for its restoration.

The poet kicks up an emotional storm in the poem, ‘Pete the Pelican’:

In the front garden of the block of flats

I see a plastic pelican with a grey fish,

also plastic, hanging from her bill.

(70)

Speaking of ‘Pete’ the pelican who died after feasting on seventeen plastic bags, this plastic grey fish ‘hanging from her bill’ is sarcastic and quick. As the poet brings down ‘a coolamon moon’ to hang ‘over a wary track’ (86), another librettist of this Opera, a voice of the present world, a poet with ‘hope’, Massimo D’Arcangelo gently says, shuffling the role of sense organs, in  ‘My Eyes Can Breathe’:

The cement blocks stacked by the construction site

are covered in snow today. My eyes can breathe.

 

The abandoned machines that line the fence

are covered in rust, home to stray dogs; the fields ,

other worldly, sucked dry by burnt motor oil.

 

 

It’s night. I see only trees. My eyes can breathe.

(20)

In a poem on delusional end, ‘Interitum’, D’Arcangelo says:

A monster propped on two legs.  He waits.  Looks. Holds

the forest’s breath.  Through a gash he watches his blood

mix with the earth. Wipes his smile dry. …

(26)

Who should hold the forest’s breath? How? It is a question to the startled reader and to understand the avarice of human actions, the reader has to read the poem over again.

In his ‘Landscape with Still-life’ poems, D’Arcangelo creates a sense of human failure costing the planet more than intended, thus, in the poem ‘Landfill’ he says:

The landfill arcs across the industrial park.

From the city, it looks like a volcanic mountain.

The bordering rivers run with detergent sludge

and chemicals, beige brooks that feed the birds.

(34)

Pointing at the horizon, the poet says:

Seagulls flop at the horizon, stuttering

forward without aim on quivering wings,

their legs coiled for one last push,

one aweless lunge back toward the sky.

(34)

It is the exasperation of other lives about the degraded ecosystem, their disappearing habitat, their erased part of link in the natural world that gets highlighted when the seagulls lunge back toward the sky.

As on cue, the poet continues his imagery in ‘Marble Cave in the Apuan Alps’:

An owl overlooks as his Mother is licked dead by the flames,

turns to the sky and pleads for help. But the actual eagle

does nothing.

 

The cuckoo’s stopped singing its solo.

The wild rabbit’s skipped off in the spoils.

The skittish groundhog’s underground.

(44)

After taking in all the vicious human attacks, even Nature loses her majesty as the poet imposes on the Sun here in the poem. In yet another poem on still-life, ‘Meat processing and Butchering Plant’ the poet says:

Around me, men with blank expressions

take turns at intervals without a word.

(58)

It is not just a butchering plant, it is the whole planet that the poet fills in where the society around is moving on with the same blank expressions, taking turns and without a word.

Impersonal rationalisation accentuates magical imagery of poetry in ‘Butcher Trailer on a Country Road’ where the target reader squirms in inexplicable agony when the words take a turn in:

But no thoughts turn this way, nobody

slows to think that this same day,

in a few hours, a little later, not long,

before it’s even dark they’ll have no tongues,

 

 

in a sputtering torrent of swaying white slather.

(52)

‘The Forest No Longer Smiles At Itself’ is a poem of warning, as the poet says:

Your trees no longer breathe. Your gaze is speechless

disapproval, unable to comprehend the plot of its child,

humankind – who, plundering his own home, steals from

himself.

(66)

Taking up turns, a gentle voice stirs the subconscious mind of the reader; Helen Moore, pushes the mind to arrive at knowledge beyond through her unrestrained poetic imagery, as when in her poem, ‘Sonnet on the Verge’, she says:

Only when frost comes hammering along the verges,

with Winter’s tempering hand the truth of it emerges.

(22)

Yes, the reader starts over again to read that the spring glories drop by suddenly after the poet says:

Daisies, the lushing up of all the lay-bys, which artfully

conceals crisp curls of plastic, fag-ends & the packaging

of petrol station pick-me-ups –  …

(22)

A leap later in the meadow that slopes to an aching stream, the poem, ‘Memesis/Nemesis’ says that:

we’re pilgrims come to reverence

this mythical plant – a chimera

that’s animal & vegetable in form.

 

 

this Ceridwen come before her time

gnashing teeth,

 

her galvanised desires

mutated beyond the ancient rites

of husbandry.

(28)

Metastasising junk in our ecosystem is the next truth that is laid out in the poem, ‘Away’. Sharp-witted seagulls, scarcity of water, landfills, bring acute images to one’s mind and is suddenly contrasted with our fight for cleanliness. This juxtaposition of untidy world against tidy immediate surroundings brings profound effect of futile efforts towards the planet when the poet says:

Mostly you shirk these overtures, keep your neat

segregation:

plastic/ metal/paper/glass;

cast tea-bags, hair-balls, peelings

 

into the red, thrashing mass …

(38)

As in the poem ‘On The Butterfly Path’ the poet hopes:

a distant beacon – & all were pointing

the way I too was heading…

(84)

It is the way the world is heading too, with anxious dismembered mind of hope, a hope that ‘everything will be ok’ and cunning shift of responsibilities that ‘Nature takes care of Herself’.  Helen Moore captures this apathy wonderfully in her poetry.

This journey of intense awareness continues to grip the reader like some invisible magnetic field all through, just so, on completion of the book of poetry, the reader chooses not to close but flips back to page 18 again for another round of reading. ‘Arias’ of the trio in ‘Intact’ successfully captures the inner yearning of the reader to express helplessness and provides psychological relief of nothingness. When diversity in Nature is breached by human actions, it becomes literary responsibility to fill sensible awareness in all available blank spaces, and take a step towards restoring orderliness of the living world. Intact does that poetically, with precision.

 

Thriveni C Mysore is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Programs, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.

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