November 16, 2013

Lyrical Calls to the Feral Spirit: A Review of Jen Karetnick's Landscaping for Wildlife by Mindy Kronenberg

cover credit: Big Wonderful Press
Landscaping for Wildlife
Big Wonderful Press, 2012

Review by Mindy Kronenberg

Landscaping for Wildlife seeks to reconcile the forces of the natural world with human nature. It uses various poetic forms (including villanelle, pantoum, and sestina) to create observations that are rich and nearly ritualized in their music and lyricism. Jen Karetnick’s poems capture the domestic and untamable sensibility (or one could even say conceit) that resides inside us as we witness scenarios of encroachment—whether of the wild on the familiar, or vice versa.

Panic and tenderness intermingle in “Echolalia,” where a baby’s cries from colic (“Back arching, her legs point into pitchforks, / Stabbing my ribs as we rock and walk.”) are echoed by peacocks. The lines of the poem are styled as its own mirror to call back the night’s shrill events, beginning and ending with the harsh call of the birds. Fear and humor come into play in “Interview with My Son before Snorkling,” and despite visions of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel and the poet’s memory of the movie Jaws—she sees “…a dorsal tipping / every wave"—and watches as her son collects underwater treasures. It is a remarkably poignant moment, summoning the sting of parental detachment:
For brief seconds on his own he collected brain coral,
observed eels scooting under rocks, and I wondered

as all mothers wonder if this is the one I’ll be allowed
to keep, before he finned up from behind to slip into mine

his growing, shriveled hand, that once-familiar
fish swimming in the oceanic eddies of my body
“A Gesture,” like “New England Music Camp,” brings together the transformative power of nature’s pageantry and personal transformation, creating memories that are both intimate and celebratory. In the first poem, a display of dolphins acts as a backdrop to the act of handholding (“…glistening fins and clouds, / light striking on every surface, / his fingers grazed mine, / withdrew, then came shyly to rest.”).  In the second, a sensual rhythm vibrates in the landscape while a young choir sings (“In the sticky sap, / the glacial lake’s mercury / licks at rocky lips. // The groove underscored, / released by an hour’s taut / and stretch, the choir / eclipses this song—”).

An ecological conscience in world’s wilderness beset by human development pervades many of these works, maintaining an eerie beauty amidst the danger. In “Love Poem for the Purple Gallinate,” the bird of the title is heralded in its glossy, abundant environment of the glades. But it is at risk when losing its life mate, diminishing it to a stain: “and should one die, the other will too, become no more than / a freckle of sunspot like the sheen on the surface of oil.” “The Sound of Global Warming: Brief Renku with Myself” is equally haunting:
Traffic rushes by
Like one thousand rivers fed
By icecaps melting.

All night, Iguanas
Thud to the ground like mangos.
Inside, they’re awake.

In visions mythic and modern, concise and elaborate, Karetnick’s poems become a collective cautionary tale. They capture beauty among caveats, dazzling the reader with scenes and images that too suddenly slip from our view.

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