Pages: 96 Size: 6.5x8
Memory should not be called knowledge, Keats wrote, and yet in Chris Dombrowski's patient hands, the memory of the natural world is knowledge indeed.
— Ilya Kaminsky
The second full-length collection from award-winning poet Chris Dombrowski, Earth Again transports readers to an imaginative world where identity is explored and expanded. With a mixture of long poems and shorter pieces, Dombrowski probes birth, death, sex, memory, and our blessed but treacherous engagement with the natural world. While he writes from a number of points of view and employs both male and female speakers, much of the collection's singular insight centers around masculine identity and being a husband and a father. Readers come away transformed, "like the land / gasping as it does each late winter evening when / the sky at tree line, nearly sapphiric, goes black," as these poems prove Dombrowski to be a truly original American voice.
Comprised of three sections—each of which concludes with a long poem—Earth Again presents a range of narrative and emotions in dexterous rhythms, unexpected shifts, and unforgettable metaphors. Dombrowksi introduces readers to arresting images like "the parataxis of her ass," "cerulean, alchemical light," "Molly with the sun in her mouth," and "labyrinthine, lanky-stemmed, dew-magnified" leaves. These details combine with Dombrowski's note-perfect language, which alternates between the most colloquial and the most elevated of diction. Readers will be challenged to consider spirituality alongside Scooby-Doo Band-aids, and to meditate on death after the mower has chewed up a plastic dinosaur, as Dombrowski revels in exploring our connection to the environment and one another.
Fans of Dombrowski's previous collection, By Cold Water (which was noted as a contemporary poetry bestseller by the Poetry Foundation in 2009), along with other poets and poetry lovers will appreciate the attention to detail and the imaginative intensity of the poems in Earth Again.
I admire these clear and exquisite images drawn from the landscape, their fusion of intelligence and feeling. Chris Dombrowski descends from the best of our nature poets: John Haines, Jeffers and Wordsworth. Earth Again is a lovely, lovely book.
– Dorianne Laux
An anonymous, Middle-English lyric from the early 14th century goes, in one modern English version, like this: Earth took of earth earth with ill; / Earth other earth gave earth with a will. / Earth laid earth in the earth stock-still: / Then earth in earth had of earth its fill. Chris Dombrowski's Earth Again calls to mind the elemental (and existential) mouthful contained in this early, four-line lyric. What we might make of earth (again and again-materially and imaginatively) is set in ultimate relation to what earth will make of us. Composition and decomposition are not opposites; together they constitute our most mysterious singularity. This is our vale of soul-making, as Keats, a presiding spirit in this collection, called it. Dombrowski's own vale is as ample as it is precise, as wide-reaching as it is achingly, lovingly intimate. Like a photographer whose chosen depth of field comprehends the 'first poppy . . . in the backyard's palm'-as sharply as the peak on the looming horizon-Dombrowski apprentices himself, again and again, to feeling the earth precisely, whether glorying or grieving, or caught in their impassable coincidence. I am wowed by his courage and his care. Nothing escapes his scrutiny, least of all the medium of his own imperfect heart. EARTH AGAIN. We are here to be schooled, to be shaken from our grossest, and even our smallest forms of negligence. Dombrowski is a poet of conscience. A river-guide in every sense. A psalmist overcoming a cynic. We are fortunate, I think, to have this kind of poet still among us.
– Sarah Gridley
Memory should not be called knowledge, Keats wrote, and yet in Chris Dombrowski's patient hands, the memory of the natural world is knowledge indeed. This poet knows how to witness snow galloping headlong in grains, and lets us, readers, see vividly how the geese peel off the sewage treatment settling pond like strewn clutch of change. Who knows this? The one mind of woods. What is the knowledge? It is what lets us see buff-colored moth, tracings of wingscales on pane, ledger of its last minutes. Why is it important? Because we had to stop what we were doing / to see what we had done. This is a generous, clear-eyed, lyricism. The wisdom of one who sees a flying object and says it could be a helicopter or archangel. Beautiful poems.
– Ilya Kaminsky
Earth Again is an arresting, beautiful collection of poems. Chris Dombrowski is musical and intellectual in equal measure, and the poems here are memorable in every way-surprising and strange, moving and alarming, delightful and frightening. This is important new work.
– Laura Kasischke
Chris Dombrowski's new book, Earth Again, is extraordinarily powerful and graceful.
– Jim Harrison
I read and reread these urgent, burning poems, I found myself underlining and starring and scribbling down not only kneebuckling images and turns of phrase, but commandments and questions to live by. I wept reading this book. I was wrecked reading this book.
– Joe Wilkins, Orion
In Earth Again, Chris Dombrowski taps into our collective fears about the future of the planet and the ways in which we can and cannot connect as humans with the natural world. The magnificence of Earth Again is that every poem seems to emerge from the very dirt, the very ground on which Dombrowski walks. Unlike many collections these days, which muse on nature and ecology from a great remove, this book gives us a speaker unafraid to sing to us from the middle of the woods, his hands covered in the stuff of this world he loves.
– James Crews, Prairie Schooner
Chris Dombrowski's second full-length collection, Earth Again, is difficult to summarize, but startlingly familiar. In it, the earth—our known world—is described both as a physical place where our often-banal lives play out, and also a dream-like world we may have collectively imagined into existence. The collection contains both short and long poems, all of which seem to explicitly or implicitly ask the reader to consider nature and humanity; just how separate are we from the world in which we live?
The setting (so to speak) of the collection is rooted very much in the natural world. The speaker is so often in "the one mind of the woods" ("Sustenance"), examining snow, the moon, geese in flight. It is winter again and again in the poems, and the speaker is forever reminding us of this: "My work is wonder, which has for too long/seemed a distant season. But it's winter now" ("The Roofers Listen to Heart's 'Crazy On You' As They Work"). And in "Eavesdripping Hour, Sunday Afternoon," "it's not right to feel this warm on a winter day but I do."
The coldness of winter triggers the speaker's memory, and remembering is very much a framework for this collection. In "Blown Snow," for example, the speaker watches snow "galloping headlong in grains" and remembers his newborn daughter crying in "the hour of vanishing." The poem "Wintering," too, makes a similar move between winter and memory, using it as an occasion for a story to be shared with the reader. And in sharing these memories, the speaker frequently conflates human nature with the natural world. Again in "Blown Snow," the tears of the newborn "turns skin folds / around her neck into rivers of salt," and in "The Weeks Before You Were Born...," the mountains suddenly become the speaker's unborn child.
Memory also manifests itself in the ordinary details of daily living: "Just before the tea cools to the precise temperature / of a tear, and the cup, warm, weighs heavy in the hand" ("Ghazal In Which End Word Repetition Is Implied"). Or, in "Inscription":
Meaning you don't watch as I describe them
Or, from memory, what's behind the lids: dual
Creeks taking separate draws down the same
Mountain, tow passages, two ungovernable
Frontiers. From memory?
The speaker is seemingly both comforted by memories and also afraid. "What is scarier than the self? / Home" ("Hammock Poem"). But the feelings evoked by these memories appear to be less important than the act of telling. The poems are about presenting, and specifically, presenting to the reader the connection between human nature and Mother Nature, between self and the earth.
The poems are not all told from one point of view, but contain many voices, which correspond with the many forms found in the collection. Indeed, even within one poem there are often several voices, as in "Comes To Worse"—a devastating poem about the death of a child—the heart of this collection. All the questions about nature and humanity appear here, but there is sacredness in the asking in this poem, tethering all the other poems in Earth Again, keeping them afloat. There is a boy sleeping in his bed, there is grief and the wind buffeting the speaker's eardrum. In the end, this speaker acknowledges that survival on this earth might mean simply wishing a dead child "more earth, in the bluntest of terms: another stolen swig of whiskey / brief as a July snow, another hard tumble on his board, another / fuck, another hummingbird" ("Comes To Worse").
– Kay Cosgrove, Green Mountains Review
Missoula has a well-earned reputation for its high density of successful prose writers, but it's not too shabby in the per-capita poet department, either. That certainly has something to do with our thriving arts culture, and perhaps also the fact that most careers in this town are as difficult to monetize as that of the poet elsewhere–so there comes a built-in, community-wide wellspring of empathy. Still, and with apologies to the many fine working local poets, past and present, it can be argued that Missoula hasn't had a transcendent poet of place since the immortal Richard Hugo passed away in 1982.
That may be changing. Chris Dombrowski, a Michigan-born poet who fell in love with Missoula upon moving here in 1999, has just released Earth Again, his second full-length book of poetry. It's a stunning work, rife with gorgeous images of Western lives and landscapes, imbued with a hardscrabble perception that will be instantly recognized by those who have committed their lives and families to this most demanding of paradises.
Dombrowski and his family currently split their time between Michigan, where he teaches poetry and nonfiction at the renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts, and Missoula, where as a guide he teaches clients the finer points of fly fishing. The Indy recently caught up with Dombrowski at his winter residence in Traverse City, Mich.
You've noted that it was Maclean's A River Runs Through It that set you on course to be a writer. Reading your stuff, it seems that Jim Harrison is a big influence as well.
Chris Dombrowski: One never truly knows who one's influences are. But when I think of Harrison I think of a kind of voraciousness for the physical world and all its incarnations, and the desire to write poems that encompass both the sacred and the profane. If you see that influence there, I'm humbled by it and appreciate it.
How did your association with Harrison come about?
CD: A mutual friend arranged a meeting, and I was quite nervous to meet him. We had exchanged a few letters over the years, but when you're meeting your literary hero there's always the horror story about the guy being a total dud or, worse yet, a total asshole. But the great thing about Jim is he's one of the few "outdoorsy" writers I've ever met who doesn't disappoint as an angler. I mean, most of us are phonies as far as that's concerned, but he's absolutely not. And then as a person he's been incredibly generous to me, and honest, and warm. We had a great three-day trip on the Big Hole, and have been friends ever since.
You're not afraid of pushing boundaries with your images, particularly when it comes to sexuality. The narrator of "Not Knowledge," for example, remembers catching a glimpse of his naked mother: "full shot: hair and all. Do our eyes meet? Does / my look of recognition belie my innocence, / reveal I've seen similar in the porn-mag Von keeps / under stacked cinder blocks? No. Not that I remember. / What nourishment, though. What indelible residue." That's pretty bold stuff.
CD: I'm interested in memory, and what lasts. The philosopher Bachelard called it "the sudden salience on the psyche"what is it in life that cuts through and makes something a moment, as opposed to being lost in the unrelenting horizontal rush of time? The first section of the book, as you picked up on, is very sexual, decidedly so. In a sense, the feminine becomes more than just the human feminine, or at least I hope it does. I also qualify that by saying there's plenty of myth-making going on in that first section, and I often think of all my poems as fictions. I don't think of them as autobiographical truths because I am pointedly following the music of the language into the truths, not the autobiographical accuracy. For whatever it's worth, I trust the language of the poem to lead me to truth.
You're obviously a student of literature and literary form, but you frequently pair fairly high-brow literary references with distinctly physical images.
CD: I believe in a physicality of language, you know? I believe that words are things. We come to love language in the same ways we come to love the world. We love the way a certain phrase sounds in our mouths, and feels in our chest, the same way we love to follow the traits of, say, the line of a mountain with our eye. And I think when you're following language and words as your guide, you end up hearing yourself say things that surprise you. That's a pleasing thing and I would say a necessary thing for me as a writer. Frost said, "No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader," and I would assert that if I'm not surprising myself with language as a writer, then more than likely the reader won't be surprised either.
You surprised the hell out of me—in the best way—with a couple lines from "Or A Woman": "The parataxis of her ass, / slight swale of nothing between two hills." Considering that one definition of parataxis is a poetry technique involving the juxtaposition of starkly dissimilar images, you nailed that on a couple of levels.
CD: Getting back to Harrison, I remember having this conversation with him at the Hitching Post in Melrose. We were talking about cleavage and why it is that the nothing, or the nada, between two masses of muscle and skin and tissue is what enamors people to that area. There's this nothingness that makes this something attractive, right? Without that nothingness, you don't have it. Look at a canyon, or a range of mountains, and it's the same thing. Poet George Oppen talks about "The hugeness of that which is missing." All that philosophical gobbledy-gook kinda rolled around in my head for a long time and then hearing the kind of assonance—pun intended—in that phrase, that's the music of the language.
You seem to be a poet of place, and that place seems to be the American West.
CD: It all goes back to that physicality for me. You mentioned in that first section of the book, the sexual imagery. As cheesy as it sounds, I think of the landscape as the body of the beloved, if you will. Beyond that I don't know what to say without going over the edge into woo-woo land.
Missoula in particular has grabbed your fancy. What is it about this town for you?
CD: Someone asked me a while ago what gets me up in the morning to write, and I said, you know, this community, the people I know and love in Missoula—they're carpenters, they're boat builders, they're artists, they're writers, they're teachers, they're gardeners, and they are all living with serious passion about what they do. That's what gets me up in the morning. I'd like to write something that speaks praise of this community, as well as of the landscape. To me it's a sacred place, it really is.
– Nick Davis, Missoula Independent