Issue 80 |

rev. of Whirling Round the Sun by Suzanne Noguere


Whirling Round the Sun 
Poems by Suzanne Noguere. Midmarch Arts Press, $12.00 paper. Reviewed by H. L. Hix.

The title poem of Suzanne Noguere's
Whirling Round the Sun transforms a bus ride through a city in autumn into an epiphany, in which "leaf / by leaf turning" serves as "a clue / to earth's revolution." The poem functions as the axis of the collection, and the sense of awe that suffuses the part -- "Sometimes it seems almost beyond belief / to be here whirling round the sun" -- pervades the whole. Noguere sees everything as revelation, not for Augustine's reason but for George Oppen's: the mundane conveys the mundus because "Every object includes the universe in its constitution and the laws of its being."

The first section in
Whirling Round the Sun announces Noguere's ambitions. Ours may be, as Baudrillard suggests, a culture of surface, but that makes Noguere a dissident, insisting defiantly on depth. The first lines of the book's first poem, "Ear Training for Poets," set the tone: "As the owl in darkness zeroes in / on the world's small sounds, so must you. But which? / The deepest comes from any quiet room / where you can lie down undisturbed. So wait / and listen." Drawing on a depth equal parts introspection and perceptual acuity, Noguere's nuance yields subtle but breathtaking results. "THESCRIBESPACKEDCAPITALSACROSSTHEPAGE / as if they were still chiseling stone until / at last in minuscules they fixed a wedge / of space between the words and a hush fell / upon the page as if light filtered through / trees to a forest floor." Nearly every page recreates for Noguere's reader that forest-floor hush.

The second section's alnage of family history observes, in her ancestors' sewing and weaving, the unifying force in their sharing of modest domestic work. Noguere describes "Sewing with my Great-Aunt," and talks of the "Extremities" of one of her ancestors: "The doctor calls it
ulnar drift, the way / your fingers now curve outward on both hands, / the bones driven like snow." She describes "My Grandmother Nellie Braun," who suffered a girlhood fall that left her stooped as short as "her last grandchild at ten," as possessing a spiritual stature far larger than her physical stature: "where she sat was center on each inner map, / with her hands folded in her quiet lap."

In poems about the hands and the brain, and the mysteries of their connection, the third section explores "how the body holds fast to pleasure." That exploration leads inevitably to a series of love poems in the fourth section, irresistible for its range and inventiveness. Some poems use Donne-like conceits, as when Noguere compares her beloved to a saguaro cactus in "Botanical Sketch of You" or compares the lovers to South America and Africa in "Continents": "one hundred / million years do not erode the fit." Another sounds like Hopkins's sprung rhythm: "We Who In / love's circus do love's fireball feat: eat / the witching flames; and lit by our own spotlight eyes vie / who is the better bareback rider." Yet another uses two haiku to woo the lover, "my hermit crab," home to "my lower lips" that mimic "the rose rim of / the pink-mouthed murex."

The final section foregrounds the natural world through which all the preceding poems moved. Its cornerstone poem about the American elm is as majestic as its subject, but the last poem (a final example of the masterful sonnets sprinkled liberally through the book) completes the whole collection by returning to the maples that appear in the book's first, middle, and last poems. Reiterating the fundamental themes of nature and mortality, the speaker wonders whether "the universe might fall / back upon itself" as the astronomers and the maple leaves seem to agree, or whether "the stars must fly / in one direction only like my life."

In the title poem, "the sparks / fly to my brain with their electric sign / for scarlet, then make my mind a mirror / of amber; and the effort is not mine," but the book, in contrast, represents tireless effort on the author's part. Each poem seems a moment's thought because the book embodies well over twenty years of stitching and unstitching. The polish of the poems in
Whirling Round the Sun follows from the fastidiousness its author shares with predecessors like Larkin, Bishop, and Bogan, those who embody Rilke's ideal of "not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap." No elm or maple offers better shade.

H. L. Hix's translation of Eugenijus Ali?sanka's City of Ash
will be published by Northwestern University Press in 2000. Among his other books are a poetry collection, Perfect Hell,
and a book of criticism, Understanding W. S. Merwin.