I've been a fan of Dave Bonta's poetry for a long time. (I reviewed his chapbook Odes to Tools at the Best American Poetry blog some years ago.) So when I learned that his new collection was coming out from Phoenicia Publishing -- the same press that brought out his Odes to Tools (and, full disclosure, also the same press that published my first two books of poetry, 70 faces and Waiting to Unfold) -- I pre-ordered a copy instantly.
Ice Mountain: an elegy is spare, elegant, and deeply moving. These are daily poems arising out of walks on Dave's home territory, a mountain which he describes in the foreword as "a high section of the Allegheny front across the valley to the northwest of our own mountain," in 2013 "desecrated by an industrial wind plant[.]"
In that introduction he writes eloquently about the price paid by wildlife for those wind turbines, and about the extent to which the Appalachians remain a "national sacrifice area" in our perennial quest for cheap energy.
The introduction offers a geopolitical framing. The poems simply offer windows into the landscape, interspersed with Beth Adams' linocut prints, as spare and elegant as the words themselves.
Some of them explore an interior landscape that hints at the outside world, like this one:
In a dream I run
through my half-remembered high school
still an outcast
I grew up with a woodstove
instead of a television
I know all the theme songs of oak
the crackle and bang
the hiss and whistle
and sudden sigh of collapse
I love "all the theme songs of oak," and how the phrase "sudden sigh of collapse" hints at (but does not directly reference) the ecosystem in distress.
Others are explicitly about the mountain and its power installation, and hint at an interior world, like this one:
Ice Mountain's propellors
spin at different speeds
face this way and that
you can't hear them from here
their low-frequency moans
like lost whales
what won't we sacrifice
to keep the weather just right
inside our homes
I love that he compares the propellors to whales -- lost indeed, so far from any ocean -- seeing even in their deadly monstrosity an analogy to something found in nature.
The natural world and the manmade world are always in uncomfortable proximity here, as in this poem:
the highway's tar has been bleached
by a winter's worth of salt
and in the mid-day sun
it almost shines
I squint at the shapes on the shoulder
as I pass
here some saltaholic's crumpled fur
there a fetal curl
of flayed tire
Dave resists easy binaries. There is a kind of beauty in the salt-bleached highway that "almost shines." But our human needs for progress come at the cost of animal lives, and this collection never lets us forget that.
Because it is deep midwinter in the hills where I live, I am most drawn to the February and March poems, the ones that unlock the austerity and beauty of winter landscape. The summer poems feel dreamlike to me now, both in their beauty and in their dark undertones. I'm looking forward to rereading this collection at different times of year and seeing what speaks most to me on future re-readings.