Shaken by Physics: Poems

by John Mackenzie
ISBN: 1551925451

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A Review of: Shaken by Physics
by Ethan Paquin

Crows, ubiquitous in John MacKenzie's second book, Shaken by Physics, "could be angels. / Devoid of mercy, or cruelty. / Meaning." The same can not be said about his poems, which are as heavy and ruminative as canticles and insistently probe re/generation and dissolution. With a knack for such gorgeous moments as those crows "skat[ing] across vision," Shaken by Physics is a book obsessed with not only the eponymous science-gravity, entropy, sound, machinery, "particle theory," equations, Heisenberg, and "the work of rebuilding the world everyday"-but with religious silences. The heft of his short- to mid-sized poems, which either dangle precariously on the page between the aethereal and physical worlds, or speak in such economic terms as to be minimalist, is in what is not said; it is in the room MacKenzie allows the reader to meander through-an almost unbearable, soulful universe:

" . . . How old are you?
13? 14? Does it matter? The crows fly.
The silhouettes of their wings are brushes
Frenzied on the wall. The sun is coming up."

Or, as reflected in the Zen-like effect of odd enjambment in "Green Leaves"

"It is January, but I am thinking of green
Leaves in the rain"

in which "but" is a clue as to the overriding voice in the book: one should not, or likely does not, think of springtime flora in the dead of Canadian winter, but in this case a devastating obsession with the beauty of all small things has overtaken the speaker. To his credit, MacKenzie's even-handed tone and spareness keeps his observations and revelations from seeming maudlin or pedestrian: here is a speaker to trust, who feels "every moment of flight," every ion in "the repetitious universe." Indeed, MacKenzie approaches and dialogues with God with Icarean curiosity and defiance, and sadness:

"A bird! he said, and leapt as if
He were god and action were
The only reflection of thought."

. . . . . . . . .

"O lord, the weight of beauty drags
My eyes ..."

Bookending poems with reverence for and proficiency in past poetics-the pastoral ("Lobster Boats, PEI") and the Postmodern demotic ("Hey, boy! Did ya see where I left that hammer?", from "Thor . . ..")-are two striking midsections, the first wryly called "Shaken by Physics: Dissonnets" and aptly comprised of a series of thirteen, 13-line poems; the second, "What There Is", hushedly rounds out the collection. Regarding the former segment, it is difficult to not be shaken by MacKenzie's best moments: "It is no small thing / To sleep and flow like rumour / Into all lands"; "Our eyes gather all / The dissonance of rain"; "There is no dignity near the sea." Despite the section's strengths, one wishes for more of the fantastic, clever and multi-textured surprises evident in "a splash of Heisenberg, a dash of Sartre"

" . . . It is a certainty that all is blue in the sky
Where ice hangs between being and nothingness
As anger hangs between fault and blame,
As ginger hangs in the pantry
Between bulbs of garlic and withering time."

and fewer familiar maneuvers, which stand out in neon as moments far beneath the poet's powers: ". . . died lonely, like everything that loses belief", ". . . the shore forgets / The sea." All, or close to it, is forgiven in "What There Is", the major poem (a "hunger haiku") to the same section that is a case study in essence: "Crows in the morning / As hoarse as a sleepless throat. / Hello, hello"; "Faint as a first sip of soup"; "Vanilla scent of gravity"; "The plate is empty. / The plate is very empty. / Emptiness fills the plate." The meditative power of this section is undeniable, forming the very strong crux for the collection. Never safe, never trite, never derivative, MacKenzie applies a mechanical/scientific/mythical rubric toward seeing and examining human experience and the natural world. Granted, he may not yet consider language as material as much as this reviewer would like (the simple-minded would translate that into, "He's not very experimental or innovative"), but Shaken by Physics is a serious book meant to be lived with.
of helplessness and assist Opal. When the first puppy emerges enveloped by its sac, Abby manages to tear the membrane and pull it away from the puppy's head, allowing it to breathe. She has done something monumental-she has saved the puppy's life and learned a valuable lesson about herself, one that will give her confidence as she continues to grow and mature. I found myself moved by this story. The illustrations by Marilyn Mets and Peter Ledwon are beautiful.

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