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A Review of: The Hunter
by Jeffery Donaldson

Apocalypses have been a dime a dozen for a decade. To judge by Hollywood's inexhaustible supply of doomsday flicks-from Armageddon to the various Matrices-the world will have more endings than a Bruckner symphony. There is never any shortage of signs, when you look for them, that the world in fact will be folding up its suitcase of trinkets soon and heading off. For my generation, the operative image was of a mushroom cloud rising like a fungus over the urban wash-out. Today, we are more likely to summon to mind the horrible images of 9/11, where the threat of terrorism replaces the cold war as our source for end-game scenarios. When we think of a post-apocalyptic age, we picture sole survivors picking through vast panoramas of urban rubble. But if apocalypse, or revelation, means to take the lid off something (look it up), why wouldn't a post-apocalypse just be putting the lid back on? It seems to me, in cultural terms, that a post-apocalyptic age might be as anti-climactic and nondescript as, say, our post-modern one has been for a generation. But one thing we might hope for from such an age, if it were to materialize, is a little critical detachment, a suitable distance from the knee-jerk hysterias that would help us to see where the dangers really are-not in our mushroom clouds, but in ourselves-and so better understand apocalyptic vision itself, its fascination for us, its rude promise. The good poets these days are chipping away at that rock ... you know, the one that is hurtling towards us.
The first notable feature of George Murray's The Hunter book is that the speaker doesn't once, anywhere, refer to himself. There is no "I" here. His is the rhetoric of prophetic proclamation, a calling out of urgent truths from the selfless "one" who is tired of needing to be heard. (Speaking of contemporary images of apocalypse, if you want Murray's The Hunter in a nutshell, picture Gandolf the Grey stranded at the top of Saruman's tower, out of the hearing range of those whom he would save, but who possesses a vast prospect of the middle world, where in the distance the deathly fires of Mordor manifest their encroaching influence.) For style, I think of John Ashbery's prolix juxtapositions of estranging details, though I like Murray's poems better (more definition, more purposeful clout, more definition between poems). But even more so I espy a kindred spirit in Mark Strand, maker of the ghostly suburban underworlds of "Dark Harbor" (one of the great American books of the nineties). Murray has Strand's surreal clairvoyance, his cheeky wit: "Hell-on-earth / has been in the planning since / shortly after Heaven-on-earth was abandoned"; "Eternity is taking for-fucking-ever to get here"; "No one wants to write songs about / what's missing, but who wants to sing / about what's here? / Surely, anything is possible. // But then again, the vast majority of anything/ is highly unlikely." Murray's created personae is a Christ-type, with a dash of Jeremiah, the prophet who keeps the wounds open so that they might heal us:

"Yes, here he comes, and when

he finally arrives, this man will preach the dangers
of loving in an end-time, when events decide
the length and quality of bliss and retaliation

becomes the institution which governs
all relationships."

Murray's apocalypse then is partly of the panoramic variety, a prospect view of devastation and decline that we witness passively, feel as happening to us: "when events decide...." And yet, his corrective influence invokes a hurried urgency, a nutty scrambling for an imaginative response that will jolt us awake, blow the lid off our illusions, jar us out of complacency. We intuit in the end a place of prophecy where the self is as near to vanishing as it dares to be. One might begin there. "Apocalypse," Northrop Frye wrote, "is how the world looks when the ego has disappeared."

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