||A Review of: Fruitfly Geographic
by Andrew Steinmetz
The poems in Fruitfly Geographic, Stephen Brockwell's third book,
are generally hard and clear, clean and spare: pure things made by
an imagist. The poem "Dart" is a good place to begin. The
clarity and attention to rhythm and careful use of enjambment will
fascinate, and reward, the close reader. Here, in the first 13
lines, Brockwell's aim is true:
I've spent half my life
learning to play darts
in the dark. To find
the sharp point without
bleeding was the first
lesson. To measure
distances by the dart's
thud in the wood
or by the skitter
of feathers on the
was the second.
The poems range from brief three liners ("Montreal",
"Toronto"), to one-page travel pieces ("Penang",
"Meditation On The Cold From The Home Office",
"Aukland"). "Hand Of The Father" is a handsome
elegy, and in "Blue Bonnets" Brockwell looks though his
grandfather's discriminatory bet-making eye, and we end up with
alternate visions of the same horse at the race track
Does a mare
pummel the turf
with her hooves
or is her gait -
canter of the sulky
gallop of the flailed
Other poems, such as "Three Deaths of Hippasus Of Metapontum",
"Parthenon Stallion's Head", "Aphrodite of Melos",
are playful and intelligent, but of a more abstract nature. In the
powerful "History of Scribes", the lines are relaxed, the
metaphor plain-spoken: "The ideal scribe / has no understanding
/ of the content of a message." What better description of an
imagist poet than these first three lines? Later, Brockwell enlivens
the metaphor with a narrative.
It is said the king's trusted scribe Nasul
transcribed his own death sentence.
Loyal in matters of the text,
beautiful, nave Nasul
seduced the king's
daughter in her royal chambers.
His sentence read exactly as follows:
Ima hanta hasi ol siman nasul ponti holotle.
may be paraphrased:
I, Nasul, for violating the princess,
will cut off my hands.
Brockwell has a gift for the well-crafted short poems. "Tiger
Lily" is reminiscent of Pound's "In The Station of the
Metro". The poem reads:
Grass cannot grow
the fire bulb
of the tiger lily.
fleck on the petal
names the species.
"A Jar Of Gasoline" is slyly named after Wallace Stevens's
"Anecdote of the Jar" (which, itself, famously begins,
"I placed a jar in Tennessee"). In Brockwell's poem the
last line whips the preceding lines into action. In an instant, it
forms an image for the reader that transcends the sum of its parts.
Here it is in full
Fire rises in a field
hidden from the road
by a tangle of hawthorns.
fear by lighting fire,
a boy holds a jar of gasoline,
afraid to let it fall;
his friends watch him.
As the column of flame
climbs to the jar,
cracks the glass in his hand.