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Approaching the Center. (Reviews).

Myronn Hardy. Approaching the Center. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan U, 2001. 97 pp. $14.00.

Heliocentrism set the world spinning when Copernicus introduced the theory in 1543, naming the sun the center of our system of planets, something Europeans had not figured or dared to set in motion as an attempt to correct a world view centered on itself. Given its new position in Western perception, the populace of the sun had now to figure the greater import of their incessant fire, import beyond the obvious pride of such an enormous power. If any of us has ever seen a citizen of the sun, it is through our own eyes gazing into mirrors our premature wisdom had thought would be empty. Pride goeth before the sun or, more appropriately, before the mecca to new centers. Ultimately, notions of centers are conveniently subjective, allowing a consciousness to realign an otherwise imperceptible reality to conform to ideas of justice, peace, or love. In Approaching the Center, Myronn Hardy counters the weight of our eyes in the mirror to show the mecca to an origin is worth the energy and the danger. Moreover, it is not a fall. it is a rising, to a new sense of what we might assume to be the place where Africanity began, only to find it was love that was born there. Love gives birth to life.

These poems are the brittle bits of the cracking pointillism of the globe under Hardy's tapping fingers, as he finds it to be more an ancient egg than the rock we all assume. It is fragile, and his music is his odyssey to knowing. In "Mosquito," the opening poem, the song that beckons him is a woman who appears "when the sun is loving another / part of the world." The lines of Hardy's poems become the bits of the world as it falls apart and opens itself to him as he tries to see a geography of identity. In "Swimming #2," he asks the "queen of secrets" how the ocean feels when ships slide over it, begging for news of his family as he goes, "On a day when the sun is bright / let me see them in your waves." Hardy's first book attempts to become an assembly of the musical composition of deconstructing and constructing anew ideas of who we are.

In "Comets 1942," he writes, "The earth is smoke gathering...." Sifting through Moorish influence in "Familiar Distance," he writes "I'm tearing up a map. / Its pieces fall into the Genil. My hand matches the river's copper water. / I am not home."

A native of Michigan, Hardy draws heavily on travels in Africa and the Caribbean. His world view eschews romantic idealizing, or rather finds certain romantic ideas and exposes them as he enters actual spaces in feelings of displacement and longing that lead to the human need to know from whence we came. He confronts the present in contemporary terms, and Approaching the Center emerges as a grasping for a faith, in the hope that we can carve away the obvious face of the present to the underlying truth, a more precious place to live.

The book consists of fifty-eight poems in five sections with an epilogue. The poet announces his quest in the first poem and provides a summary and return in "Independence Day, Arkansas, 1998," which is the final poem as epilogue. However, the cartography is metaphysical in organization, as opposed to physical. There are points where apparent epiphanies are much like the dots and stars of maps that indicate the location of capital cities, such as "100% Negro" in section four. In the poem we see Brazil's African presence as much as an original Angola, the marooners as much as the contemporary civil war warriors, tied together by the bitterness of cane.

In places a narrative seems to tease its head from the otherwise abstract way the book moves. These places seem lodged between poems that are at times so abstract they are set off spinning in places that are indeterminate, which can make for frustration in what appears to be a poetic more akin to Robert Creely's than to Bob Kaufman's, or perhaps a meshing of one interpretation of jazz with another in that way. The more effective abstractions give a precise and delicate emotional impression as effect in reading and internalizing the poet's search for home, as in "September 21," with the emblematic phrase in response to the father's inquiry about his son's journey, "I was an island."

The progression in these poems is more pointillism's whimsical placement of words as bits and fragments, and the lyric quality of much of what succeeds in Hardy's first book is the sweeter combustion of attempting to answer the unanswerable, in responses steeped in innocence and a love of bright but simple language. He shows a knowledge of the exchange between Langston Hughes and Nicolas Guillen, in which Guillen helped Hughes see more of the variety of human experience beyond color as identity. Hardy also seems to have had Hughes's experience of traveling in Africa, that of being seen as other, an ache Hughes felt as he lay in the berth of a merchant marine ship while white sailors exploited African women.

In "Are You Langston Hughes," Hardy's lines echo the confluence of his journey with his "sense" of Hughes's journey: "I'm here to hold a / country in my hands then let it go."

Much of the excitement in seeing a poet's first book is to think of what may lie in store for his/her poetic project. Having secured the definite indefinite of genesis and influence in ideas of who people of African descent are, Myronn Hardy has several choices, of course, but perhaps the most delectable of these is to sing a new body electric. If we take electric to be the transforming space between the corporeal and the ethereal, he can now take this vision of music of a metaphor that is his and search for the points of convergence in the larger universe, the vastness and smallness of all that we know. In that place his poetic may approach the divination he is seeking in the space of his first book, as he gazes into the mirror hoping to have emptied it of all desire or need to know what history and geography can tell us about what to call ourselves.
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Author:Weaver, Afaa M.
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2002
Previous Article:Other works received.
Next Article:"Something patterned, wild, and free": Robert Hayden's angles of descent and the democratic unconscious.

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