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The Silo: A Pastoral Symphony.

The Silo is John Kinsella's fifth collection of poems, and for many readers of his work it will be a source of satisfaction to see him returning to his most accomplished mode as a poet: the pastoral lyric and the short narrative. His previous book, Syzygy (1993), was an overly experimental work, drawing on contemporary, notions of avant-garde technique in poetry, and although Kinsella can write in that style as well as most, his real strength as a poet is in the clarity and directness of his vision and his language. Thus, when one moves from a stanza such as "where it is we see/this vast field of outers/&/ravishing inners, smoothly/ravishing inners, smoothly/prized apart as text - UR/&" to this stanza from the new book, "Silence is the storm song tautly wound,/when the grey shrike-thrush drinks/the echoes of the honeyeater's call," there is still an impressive energy and tension in the language; but in the second example we are turned toward a world we can enter into as participants rather than view as astonished admirers. That is to say, the poetry enters into us.

The title of this new collection, The Silo: A Pastoral Symphony, is meant to invoke Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, and the book's division into five sections reinforces the sense of symphonic composition. Overall, however, the structure seems attenuated, almost unnecessary, and yet there is still a strong sense that - individually - the poems are working within a particular mode or key. It is the same key in which we find similar evocations of the rough life of rural Australia - in the work, for instance, of Les Murray and the late Philip Hodgins. Where Murray writes of rural New South Wales and Hodgins of Victoria, Kinsella depicts the pastoral lands of Western Australia. In Kinsella's poetry these are lands marked by isolation and mundane violence and by a terrible transcendent beauty. The poems are variously inflected to present the fullness of Kinsella's vision, and there is a pleasing variety of poetic forms deployed, from limpid narratives to complex formal structures (a sestina, a villanelle). No longer a young poet of promise, Kinsella has entered into his mature voice - a voice that must from now on be attended to by readers of poetry.

In poems such as "Rock Picking: Building Cairns," "The Well as Entry into the Overworld," "Shootings," "Essay on Myxomatosis," "Fog," "Winter Parrots," and numerous others, one is forced by Kinsella's poetry to confront a world which is foreign and yet deeply familiar - a cognitive tension or strain that is evident in the verse itself, with its remarkable range of diction and rhythmic energy. As one proceeds through the book, the poems begin to stand in a resonant relation to one another and to take on a collective meaning - or meaningfulness - that they are not likely to achieve singularly (though several are so successful they will clearly live beyond the bounds of this collection).

The Silo is a book to read through, both in the sense of finishing in a single reading and in the sense of working through the poems to the impetus - the source - of their passionate surfaces.

Paul Kane Vassar College
COPYRIGHT 1996 University of Oklahoma
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Simon, Paul (American singer)
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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