TRANSPORTATION: POEMS by Kristen Lindquist; Megunticook Press, Camden, 2011; 60 pages, trade paperback, $12.95.
Kristen Lindquist’s higher-profile persona is development director for the Coastal Mountains Land Trust in Camden, where she also lives, and then underneath that is her life as a seemingly ubiquitous midcoast birder and naturalist, which she turns into monthly essays for the trust’s Natural History Calendar. So as might be expected, the principal subject matter of the poems in “Transportation” is nature. But a lot more is going on under this surface. It turns out she has unusual agility of line and voice, too.
In “Transportation,” which collects together poems published scattershot (as most poets do) in magazines and anthologies in recent years, two rhetorical voices seem to be in play. One is oriented to natural speech — lines and phrases someone would, in the heat of some emotion, actually say — and the other is a slightly more elevated formal diction characteristic of what comes out of creative writing workshops. This workshop diction often manifests itself in sometimes painful hypotaxis — that is, dependent clauses stacked alongside of, inside of, outside of and upon each other in perfectly grammatical strings that no human being would ever actually speak. It is our version of highly elevated literary language. So Lindquist, who holds an MFA in creative writing, is conversant with this mode, but in an unusual twist, she humanizes it. “One of Those Nights,” for example, begins:
It’s one of those dark nights of the soul, driving
back roads, eyes of small animals glinting
in the headlights, tossed beer cans shining,
occasional street signs glowing like beacons.
Now, no native English speaker would ever utter a stack of dependent clauses like this of his own accord. And many otherwise skilled poets, unfortunately, really make a point of reminding you of this. But in Lindquist’s parlance, it’s at work within a down-to-earth, natural manner: “You’ve got the music up as loud as you can stand it. / every relationship has its soundtrack,” go the next two lines, perfectly colloquially.
Other poems operate mainly at direct colloquial levels, as in “How Baseball Saved My Marriage”:
One happy hour drink in Orono and now I’m driving
up the Penobscot just for kicks, past the bridge to Indian Island,
I should keep going right on to northern Maine, all the way
to Canada. I could just keep driving all night
Making natural speech poetic, and poetic speech natural, are not easy things to do. What is going on here? I think a certain negative capability drives these rhetorical angles and allows her to treat any experience or idea — whether it’s a bird, the moon (“the bright egg of the moon,” “the swollen white berry of the moon,” “the glowing zero of the moon’s face”), or an emotion like fear, enthusiasm or love (see especially “Wish Fulfillment”) — on its own natural terms, unencumbered by her own ego. Even when she is talking about herself, she is not talking about herself. This is quite unusual. Whether she speaks in a street voice or a formal literary voice, you still believe her.
Most of the poems touch base with the conventional literary topic “nature,” and one, “The Rapture,” expresses the quintessential experience of birdwatching, but these poems taken together are larger than their subjects. Which is what poetry should do, if you ask me, because it makes its readers larger. These poems, to my mind, do that.
“Transportation” is available by contacting Lindquist at firstname.lastname@example.org or writing to Megunticook Press, 12 Mount Battie St., Camden 04843. She will be reading at Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25.