I don’t have much to say about Eamon Grennan and I’m running behind so this is post is going to be brief:

Grennan is a nature poet who was born in Ireland and teaches, I believe, at Vassar. 

The few poems I’ve read has this mini-transcendant epiphany although this transendance is not overt; it’s implicit in the his close descriptions of nature. 

Most of his poems are written in free verse with a strong iambic backbone; it’s something of an assonance-rich, free blank verse (or blank free verse). They’re also elegiac. Grennan says:

 “In the poetry I write there’s a certain attempt at reanimation. Particularly if you’re a lapsed Catholic, you look for versions of reconciliation, consolation, something to hold onto in the face of disappearance. . . As far as I’m concerned, poetry is about elegy. Every poem is a memory of some kind, a celebratory elegy. Poems are like shells. Something is gone and that’s why you write.”

Grennan’s poem in the November 10, 2008, issue of the New Yorker reminds me of A.R. Ammons’ Corsons Inlet, the famous poem on the rejection of transcendence

Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision
that I have perceived nothing completely

…and elegy to nature as the representation of free verse.

…I was released from forms,
from the perpendiculars,
      straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds
of thought

In Ammons’ poem there are few, clear demarcations in nature and the poet’s mind should follow; there should also be no assignations of meaning: nature is what it is; a bird is just a bird and not a romantic symbol. Grennan says:

“I have a double sense of things, but I tend to write about what’s under my nose. I write about here when I’m here and when I go back to Ireland I write about what’s there. I regard myself not as in exile, but as a migrant. That’s what attracted me, in some of my early poems, to birds. My becoming a poet — in this particular incarnation anyway — was not unconnected to someone giving me the present of a pair of binoculars.”

There are a couple of lines in Grennan’s poem that draw close parallels, and may even be in response to “Corsons Inlet.” The first is the cormorant’s “amphibian gift to live underwater and in air.” Grennan devotes a lot of time on this particular image and in what was stanza after stanza of close description of a nutral scene, says of the seabird’s wingspread “the very image of the black phoenix rising,” which struck me as odd during my first reading of the poem. Of course the phoenix is perhaps the ultimate symbol: immortality, resurrection, creativity, and it’s no mistake that Grennan is having the cormorant do double duty: as an actual bird and as symbol; that we can’t get away from the assignation of meaning.

Which is why it’s no mistake that he begins the poem with a flurry of images from a dream. Your dream (and mine); the reader’s collective dream. What connects a bundle of kindlewood, Italian stone, and the poet’s French horn-playing daughter. I don’t know but my mind scrambles to assign meaning, to make the connection “from this to that.”

Further Reading

A short audio interview with Grennan from OnEarth.

Grennan’s “Watch”: A “prose confession disguised by line breaks.” The poem.

Another interview, this one from The Cortland Review.

And yet another, from The Lannan Foundation.

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