Ken Belford, lan(d)guage

I can't really say what I know
but I write provisional inferences
and, like others, perpetuate copies. (p.34)
Ken Belford's new book lan(d)guage, published by Caitlin Press and distributed via Harbour Press, is full of little gems that read autobiographically. I don't know Belford well enough to say where the boundaries are between imagined and experienced, but of course that's beside the point. They read autobiographically, so it's not especially relevant whether there's a persona intervening between the two of us.

I'm still learning to read Belford. I've got ecologue out of the library as an intended help, because there are actual titles to the poems in that book. lan(d)guage has no titles, perhaps because it's subtitled a sequence of poetics, rather than poems, but I've been thinking of them by first line. He has the knack of saying complex things simply, without losing philosophic depth to the demands of the colloquial, but occasionally I fail to grasp his lines - I'd like to flatter myself that such lines aren't fully elaborated, but Belford's craft tells me that really, I just haven't earned the right to understand it yet. Hopefully there'll be time enough for that, and ecologue is helping a bit.

Some pieces stand out for me, especially for the way he blends elements of traditional nature writing with a more probing, textually rich description/analysis. The first strong example comes on just the third page of poetics, about waking up having slept unaware beside a grizzly and seeing him flee as soon as they both awake:
At that moment everything I knew left me
And now a new world has taken place.
......................To see this thing
was not horrendous, and to see it go
was not delightful. Nothing meaningful
occurred, but time started with a big bear.
This is not about anything, but I'm waiting
for some thing to come up behind me
in the night. I'm like something else now,
and every breath I take anticipates
that moment I want again and again.
The book doesn't quote that well, but it goes down nicely in great swallows, and like all really good poetry, it's a treat to reread. Of course I didn't miss anything on the first read, so wise am I (wha'?-ed.), but as the days go on I'm rewarded more and more for my patience.

The third and last of the reviews saved up over the tough last few weeks. Less detailed than it was going to be, too, but that's a reflection on me rather than on Ken Belford. This book has an unstable place in my affections still, but I'm confident it'll end up in my year-end best-books shortlist.


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