Kristen Lindquist’s new collection of poems, “Tourists in the Known World,” is a welcome reminder of what one of Maine’s best practicing poets has been up to persistently for years at her home in Camden: making authentic translations of the directly experienced world into poetry.
What you get from the atmosphere, mood and figuration of her poems is a sense not just of awe, good humor, complicated affinities and occasional chafing Thoreau-like irony, but also the feeling that everything the poem is made of is coming through without calculation, without artifice. This is tricky phrasing, because a lack of artifice is not a lack of art. Lindquist has an unusually deft feel for language — especially for the subtle rhythms we prefer in our poetry nowadays. Her phrasing is refreshingly authentic to the way we speak, yet more precise than much of the high literary language characteristic of poets operating out of more academic, workshop-oriented milieus.
“How Baseball Saved My Marriage” is a memorable example of how her down-to-earth diction completely suits down-to-earth subject matter, exquisitely crafted. The opening lines:
One happy hour drink and now I’m driving
up the Penobscot just for kicks, past the bridge to Indian Island,
past the just-closed Georgia-Pacific plant, tidy yards
of Milford, “Place of a Million Parts” junkyard,
the drink still warm in my belly
The speaker of the poem gets it in mind to throw everything off and drive to Canada — all lightly good-humored, but artfully implying significant underlying emotional turmoil — then finally, after a daydream about the Red Sox, she realizes she doesn’t know if she’d be able to find tonight’s game on the radio, and not wanting to miss it, opts for “the long drive back to everything familiar and well-loved.” Beautiful.
Lindquist is a well-known midcoast birder and naturalist, and her poems reflect the reverence and delight that go with those occupations. Many conditions of moonlight, bird sightings, weather, woods and coastal landscape appear and re-appear, and the striking thing, to me, is that they channel through not as subjects contrived for poetry, but as poetry crystallizing from the love of the subjects. Her poem “November 6” (which I read recently to a group of naturalist fans) is a testament to the notion that our internal experiences of places and times are not isolated, but deeply shared events. This is my November, too:
I realize daily how much I love this time of year,
the landscape pared down, stark: winterberries
bright among twisted shapes of trees, mountain’s
curved spine under its coat of pines, pattern of crows
scattered across hayfields. A goldeneye flies over
the breakwater, harbor-bound. Buffleheads dive
and reappear. In heavy sweater and long coat,
sun on my back, I wait at a picnic table
for Paul to bring over take-out cheeseburgers.
My gloved hands clasp my bottled water.
My joy feels something like prayer.
“Tourists in the Known World” is full of these authentic, crystal moments.
Kristen Lindquist’s poems have appeared widely in literary and local publications, and have been read on National Public Radio’s Writers Almanac. She also writes a monthly nature column for the Penobscot Bay Pilot newspaper and keeps a blog, “Book of Days: A poet and naturalist tries to find poetry in every day.”
She will be reading her poetry at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at the Rockport Public Library. “Tourists in the Known World” and her previous collection, “Transportation,” are available at midcoast book stores and through her website: www.kristenlindquist.com/books.
Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections each month. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].