Notations on the Visible World by Kathleen Wakefield
Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry (1999)
Notations on the Visible World is a spiritual quest characterized by the continual pull toward abstract faith and the opposite attraction of the real--and difficult--world. Kathleen Wakefield's steady voice turns the lens of attention sotto voce on the small--a detail of a painting, the inside of a flower, the movement of a rake in the hands of a dying woman. If grace is the ultimate object, it comes at some cost, and is hard-won. Wakefield sings alto to the melody of the natural world, finding the "shadows ornamenting shadows" in our daily ministrations. She makes "of musik" a documentation of doubt and belief, doing the "soul's work" by creating a memorable music of her own: "So much singing cannot be shut out." -- Judith Kitchen
Kathleen Wakefield's poems begin with attention--to the forest understory, the beetles and mosses, the deer, the light -- an attention that interrogates the complexities of nature, and yet without, as Keats put it, "any irritable reaching after fact or reason." And so each revelation, as it comes, feels effortless, as if Wakefield's insights were a path strewn with astonishing iridescences. There's a lot of wisdom here, and compassion. Her elegant lyrics are spiritual meditations that accommodate uncertainties with a pure gaze, honest and human, undogmatic as the dawn. It's a rare gift to be able to make a reader enter a poem on the same footing. Notations on the Visible World is an extraordinary and rewarding book. -- Barbara Jordan
Kathleen Wakefield's serene but determined voice is a welcome, long-overdue departure from the din of apologetic and noncommittal poets. Notations on the Visible World is a rare debut -- at once fresh and seasoned -- covering the expanse that separates faith from belief. These poems spring from ordinary soil and come to us as cantatas to God and Bach and Piero della Francesca; they pay homage to loved ones, rescuing their names from the great unsung repertoire of the world. It is a solid collection, placing Kathleen Wakefield in that select group of contemporary poets--Gerald Stern and Charles Wright among them--with an intimate handle on nature: even the darkest images are charged with a sense of joy, a soft light to show us just how elegant American poetry can be. -- Dionisio D. Martínez
Cover: Milford Apetz, "Yellow Field"
Smell of ash in the air, a distant burning,
and the clatter of wild turkeys,
the racket of sex;
the woods are full of it,
tipped, cry of the flicker
like some derangement of the senses, the steering
of fernlip towards the light, what little
A low rolling
of thunder and the rain when it comes falls
like a form of angelic restlessness,
an imagined sighing --
a bitter tonic after a long illness.
Violets bloom at the edge of the lawn
like the purple release of blood
under the skin.
Kyrie, says the flicker,
all desire and beginning. I doubt it.
This understory of gauzy brush not yet shaken out
is a shimmering scarcely achieved.
wants to sing,
for who can bear the containment of the trees,
the eyes' aptitude for green now?
The woods are full of it,
rain falling like a part of speech
like grace notes from a page of music
held in the mind until now.
I will go back to the day it rained in the late summer garden,
a merciless rain that plucked my deaf ears
open, such wild applause that had nothing to do with me,
nor the way I'd arranged the broad-leafed hostas
in a half-moon, the laddered spires of lobelia in between,
and then the lilies, loosestrife, and spiky monarda
for rain to fall on, which in the end made no discernible
difference, the whole woods clamoring, a ceaseless drumming
that said, So much singing cannot be shut out:
Rise and walk away, and for a moment it was all Mississippis,
cane-backed chairs and spinning reeds, the soft secrecies of
flesh spiralling underneath, but I tell you, it had the absolute
certainty of answered prayer. It was what it was --
rain -- having no use for words like redemption,
redemption mimicking its course, undefiled by gutter
and downspout, rock and ripped leaf. It was a litany with purpose,
a near monotone that played and leapt to its conclusion
in spite of my foolishness, white flames dancing on a glassy table top.
Yes, I know it was simply the result of all the conditions that permitted it,
but my God, how it laughed at me, the rain and the green flesh
declaring itself alive.