||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
"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.