Mark Allen Jenkins
Review of My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer by Paige Ackerson-Kiely
Boise: Ahsahta Press, 2012. 106 pp, $17.50, paper.
First, a confession. The title of Paige Ackerson-Kiely's My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer piqued my curiosity in a way most poetry collection titles do not. A recent blog post on the Indiana Review's website by Michael Mlekody reminded me of how important a title is for drawing reader attention, but perhaps also providing a vague idea of what a book is about. That said, Ackerson-Kiely's second collection is about more than deceased explorers, but exploration in its broadest sense, such as exploring loneliness as if it were a destination, a place with landscapes to map out. It also expands upon themes of frigidity and isolation, whether symbolic, literal, or metaphoric, in poems like ("Preservation of Love") , leaving tired domestic spaces ("On the Failure to Make Home"), and virtual, idealized landscapes verses reality ("Real Mountains"). As the narrator in "Meek overcome the Meek" puts it, "I do not know why you have to go so far to explore when there are plenty of things around here that need sussing out."
Many poems in this collection use fragmentation, from sudden shifts in topic ("The Greeting"), to different voices("Have Never Been a Lonely God"). The latter poem imagines the speaker and most likely the titular Lonely God wandering together: "I have never been a lonely god/ though I can relate to being asked for many things/ & fighting the urge to give them away/ just to get him to shut up.// You must be gentle sweet girl// You must not fight the buttonhole." The repetition of phrases like "You must," and "I have never been a lonely god" happens regularly in other poems like "Architectures" and "First Contact." It's something Ackerson-Kiely uses well, as the meaning of these phrases changes each time they return.
The poem "The Greeting" pivots off a narrative and a change of voice with "All that jazz," and then "Can you dig it," playing with phrases and anticipation: "A stranger walked slowly past my house. Man's feelings are always purest and most glowing in the hour of greeting and farewell. All that jazz. I never got into it, unless someone was watching. He was, so I snapped my fingers. Can you dig it? I am no gardener carefully tending this plot of bored declension." The speaker then addresses the stranger, "Hello, I ventured. Hello, I strained," but like a bad dream, he doesn't respond and is depicted as something ethereal, "His face imparted negligible vehemence, a soggy bun slapped with meat," before closing with "For some time, the only thing I could image was my own hunger." This final statement sends a reverb back through the rest of the poem, justifying the disorientated speaker's voice and even the image she gives the stranger's face. Paige Ackerson-Kiely's poems are mostly lyrical, but utilize narrative to varying degrees. Many are also prose poems ("Don't Tread on Me," "The Meteorite," and "Global Warming"), but just as many are more traditionally formatted poems ("First Contact," "The Dog," and "Main Street").
Several poems make up a scattered sequence with titles that use Landscape of," such as "This Landscape of Request," "This Landscape of Forest," and "This Landscape of Invention/Fire." "This Landscape of Request" opens the collection with a speaker overwhelmed by a nature she creates: an "Imported meadow. Noon-pled/ thunderheads darkening." The poem becomes an ars poetica as it invokes a "you," an unnamed reader the speaker addresses: "I would make you come to." These landscape poems subvert notions of landscape as many are more about landscapes of relationships than anything on a horizon. The speaker of "This Landscape of Forest" mentions "This is what I remember every night as I emigrate to your border. You are sitting at the computer, maybe paying bills." My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer sets out in a multitude of unusual, unsettling paths, as its speakers attempt to interact and comprehend their surroundings, and it's this combination that ultimately makes My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer a collection well worth traversing.
Mark Allen Jenkins is currently a PhD in Humanities student at the University of Texas at Dallas where he serves as Assistant Editor for Reunion: The Dallas Review. His poetry has appeared in Memorious, minnesota review, Muse & Stone, South Dakota Review, and elsewhere.