by Megan Sexton
Mercer University Press. 2014.
Not every reader of poetry is looking for the next big manifesto of political survival and over-determination; the poem that vanquishes other new books of poetry and inaugurates a new age of linguistic trapeze. The poems of Swift Hour by Megan Sexton are orisons, somewhat in the tradition of Eiléan ni Chuilleanáin or Eavan Boland.
Swift Hour is divided into three sections: Shell, Nest, and Seed. The first section of poems visits figures such as St. Theresa of Lisieux (dressed as Joan of Arc), a waitress who magically bestows fullness on diners, grieving Mexican mothers of missing children, Akmatova and a transcriber assigning her new poems to memory, and a modern day Orpheus and Eurydice at a bus station. What is found is always a tender handling of the shell of some entity. Poetry itself is the mysterious stuff of the human imagination; each poem, a little residual refuge of a set of life images played out. A system of lyrical augury images adheres the collection.
Poems in “Nest,” the second section, center on relationships. Bodies stretch out in nuptial comfort. A photogenic previous generation is ekphrastically celebrated. Poems like lives take place in houses and rooms. Creatures inhabit the world… and their own worlds:
In this world,
you must move below the obvious.
The world is divided into the domain of birds and the domain of people. Both tending to their temporary condition:
after reaping all they could from the land,
men and women on the western frontier
would burn down their houses,
and after the fire died,
they’d pick through the ash for nails.
(“To One Steeped in Folly”)
Megan Sexton is a quiet, even humble poet. She is a religious poet (akin to Heather Winterer and Mark Wunderlick). She never seeks to flex any advantage of insight or expression. Dramas unfold as a poem that floats to poetic resolution. Surrounded by the patterns of Nature’s display, Sexton illuminates in the spirit of the Christian Irish mystic:
In this month of the saints and dead,
I see explosions of swifts burst
from the magnolia trees downtown,
swooping by my ninth-story window.
My heart races with the black notes,
flying in patterns I have been blind to…
O Love, so much lies buried deep inside
until the trapped flue of the heart releases
thousands of flames silhouetted
across the evening sky.
And the final section is the realm of mother with her own griefs and the happy brimming responsibility of nesting a child–“the hush and its amplitude.” Much of the physical world gives rise to the more nuanced abstract world of myth and knowledge, cyclical lyricism and linear narrative. And then those valences become the intertwining linguistic valences of poetry. While at a market the poet’s daughter encounters her first pomegranate. The mother holds her fire:
She wants nothing to do with it,
recoils from its leathery skin…
Poison, she seethes, without me saying a word,
nothing of the myth lodged in my throat.
I keep my terror to myself
and will not sing the syllables
Persephone to her, for now, across the road,
wild violets still blanket the field.
(“My Daughter in the Fruit and Vegetables”)
Swift Hour is small (53 pages), smart, skillfully balanced book with a lot to deliver. It is a first book, which leaves the reader eager for more Megan Sexton.