Saturday, March 29, 2008



A f i e l d by Anthony Hawley
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2004)

From the author of The Concerto Form (Shearsman Books), Anthony Hawley’s chapbook A f i e l d disrupts expectations before one has even opened it. Rough twine, with its concomitant connotations of farm work and usefulness, binds the pages together, the rope’s roughness contrasting the aesthetic care taken with the printing of the covers and the papers in the book itself. There is much to admire in the production of this chapbook as a beautiful object, which both complements and runs counter to the poetry within, heightening an exquisite tension.

Inside lurks an intriguing collection of ‘abstract pastorals’ that quickly upsets one’s usual expectations of pastoral poetry. The opening poem introduces a depiction of rural life that may be unrecognisable to many:
Borders order but little flung rocks
splay stenciled space good graphed
routes running opposite fjord they
swerve and wend now a wadis now a vacant
imprint we follow fallow skulk and
shoosh […]

There is a subtle engagement taking place, as if Hawley is in quiet and genteel dispute with the pastoral poetry of Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe:
A patch a clip orchard enough
to swallow us the rushing fall
mackintosh we nibble then
pyramid their cores pine and
steep foliage-wild limbs lace
an embrace tugged up sex
smeared with apple-seed backs
prickly from thistle’s touch

How contrary to Marlowe’s seductive “Come live with me and be my Love” line and yet, perhaps, not so very different. Hawley appears to build his work on a scaffold of syllabic and rhythmic, possibly even number-based, structures. These poems eroticise nature and the outdoors.

Although one might consider some opening lines weakened by the use of an initial adverb [forth, afterwards, occasionally, nigh], Hawley counters this with a gentle wit that bubbles through his work, sweet and surprising:
Lingers the pitch the cricket's
tinny music they grate and
stridulate piebald pigs go
oink [...]

Anthony Hawley’s A f i e l d will leave the reader feeling strange and ill-at-ease. It hews close to the title’s dictionary definitions: one is going to be taken off the usual track, away from one’s usual environment, on to some unknown field.


Ivy Alvarez is the author of Mortal (Washington, DC: Red Morning Press, 2006). Her poetry is published in journals and anthologies worldwide and online. A MacDowell and Hawthornden Fellow, both the Australia Council for the Arts and the Welsh Academi awarded her grants to write poems for her second manuscript.

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