Fiddlehead by Steven Toussaint and Arboretum by Lee Posna were recently released by Compound Press (the press behind the journal Minarets). Both Toussaint and Posna are exceptional poets, and their work is exquisitely presented in these chapbooks. While the poets touch on similar themes (and share common history: both are Americans who attended the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, but now live in New Zealand), they have distinct poetic voices.
Arboretum is a long poem that follows the ghost of an arborist. It is complemented with ink illustrations by Lucy Meyle (I want to get my hands on her zines!). As a haunting meditation on the meaning of death, the poem explores the way death not only ends a life, but that person’s singular vision. The poem deftly draws on Greco-Roman history, and tropes of the river journey to the underworld, while still being modern and poignant.
Fiddlehead takes as its premise the geographical worldview put forth by Dante in Commedia and Questio de acqua et terra, with Rangitoto being imagined as the single landmass in the southern hemisphere, and the mountain that Ulysses describes to Dante before his ship is swallowed into the sea. Hearing Toussaint read is engrossing – his poems are sonorous, and Fiddlehead is no exception. Sound and rhythm drive the poem forward, and repetition draws the reader in circles:
empty set for a second
the moonset light wastes it
as dawnlit strap, spores flake off
the farthest ferns, transparent
for peace I tap
fruits turn nacreous
kids push litter with their toes
are stung by leopard-spotted wasps
smells of illness fill the comb
The unlikely marriage of the mythic Rangitoto with Dantesque poetics results in a single minded and complex poem. It requires work on the part of the reader, but spending time with this poem is wholly satisfying. Both chapbooks are available from the Compound Press online store.