Ken Belford, Decompositions

I've read some other Ken Belford books in the last few years (Pathways into the Mountains, ecologue, and lan(d)guage), so I was very pleased to hear earlier in 2010 that his newest volume, Decompositions, was coming out shortly from the wonderful publisher Talonbooks. I enjoyed Maureen Scott Harris's review in the December 2010 issue of The Goose (ALECC's regular journal/newsletter), helpfully reprinted with credit on the Talonbooks site, and I'm not sure I've got much to add.

Still, I retain my slight anxiety about these pieces, and the whole landpo mode that Belford is working. At a 2009 Open Word presentation in Victoria, Belford suggested that lyric poetry is basically corrupt, as a way of connecting with or expressing ideas of the land in British Columbia. (Lorna Crozier, who identified herself during the Q&A as a "lyric poet," didn't take this especially well.) I'm fine with this assertion, and with the occasional related remarks here (nature poetry as "death with / a pretty picture," on p.45), but I'm still a little puzzled by what I take to be a prickly wavering between openness and insider language: between colloquial rhythms and words on the one hand, and specialized vocabulary from indeterminate specializations on the other.

Maureen Scott Harris sees these specializations as those of vascular plant biology and geology, to give two examples, but he also connects with computer virology and coding, with the physiology of disease, and with other fields of study. Is he saying that I need to understand these fields to make sense of the poetry? Is the jargon a collective red herring, reminding me of the assorted additional pulls on my attention and time? Is he using the language not for precise meaning, but to underscore the connections that should be made and recognized between a poem and a larger world? Am I supposed to get by with a limited understanding of these words, because I (we?) tend to muddle through the world learning only enough to get by?
Landscape is an idyllic place
in the imagination, a claim of meaning
farmed by old fogeys. I'm looking, not
for a theory that allows for duplication,
but for a consonance that's better. (p.46)

Decompositions is a terrific book that repays your attention, definitely, and I encourage you to take a run at it, but maybe you can drop me a note to suggest what I should think of it....


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