There Now: Poems by Eamon Grennan
Graywolf Press, 2016; 88 pp
Reviewed by Edward A. Dougherty
Eamon Grennan is one of the finest lyric poets writing in English, and There Now: Poems, his latest collection demonstrates why. Though other books contain pieces of several sustained pages, these new poems, like his collection The Quick of It, are taut briefnesses. In them, he is attends intensely to the physical details of a moment and so reveal the emotional or intellectual significance of it. But that description makes them sound dry when the primary experience of a reader is delight, marvel, wonder.
One of the perpetual wonders of Grennan’s work is the “mouth-music” he creates. For example, describing fruit in a still life painting by the Dutch artist Adriaen Coorte, Grennan writes that the gooseberries “start out of the dark / to make a small world of in-lit gleaming spheres.” Or he describes a cat in a Gaugin painting as being “cupped in its own circle / of doze.” Whether he deals with artwork or the “coupled delight” of crows doing their aerial acrobatics, the “spring-loaded hunger-honed presence” of birds in a locust tree, or a red-tailed hawk killed by the New Jersey Turnpike, Grennan creates vivid images with compressed and lively phrasing, that is nearly an embodiment.
Despite this vibrancy of language, one important meditation is the limitation of words. In “What’s There,” the poet says that morning light falling on low greenery “fashions some / greater sense than language can manage…” And this “greater sense” is the heart of the lyric impulse: some experiences heighten the senses and the mind-heart so much that words fail.
Another important idea that develops is how life and death exist in each other’s arms. Many of the still lives depict dead animals or flowers. Likewise, the dead fish at a city farm market are rendered so vividly that they seem lively; on the other hand, the intimacy of a lover kissing the “spoon-shaped concave under your Adam’s apple” is marred by the mosquito that comes in the night and bites just there. Through such contrast, Grennan embraces both the ferocity of life and the finality of death, and paradoxically is able to arrive over and over in individual poems and in the end of the book to “this here-and-now / moment.” And then standing in lyric intensity, we are invited to affirm the world.