STEPHEN RATCLIFFE : ROCKS & MORE ROCKS
These meditations explore, with measured attention and endless affection, how the mind walks the body farther than it could ever walk itself, and makes it, in fact, walk out of itself and into a beyond populated by Shakespeare, Oppen, Catullus, Pound, and so many others, all counting each syllable as a step in a journey whose goal is itself.
In Rocks, as always, Steve Ratcliffe soothes, excites, mesmerizes. These long poems about heroic mountains and lakes at high altitude are also about being alive in language and thought, about the intense performance (as in Hamlet—the play keeps intruding on the poem) of presence in the world, and about syllables, as counted, step by step, stanza by stanza, line by line, with commas systematically placed, forward, enjambed—in one continuous flow—until an ending appears. These poems are music of the impersonally personal, a life lived only now, beyond conceived identity. Ratcliffe’s ongoing commitment to the practice of poetry and to being in nature’s silences has produced a barely graspable monument to our time —in words solid and elemental as rocks.
A wonderful extended meditation that arrived as the poet, hiking in the Sierra, was, in his own words, “walking and thinking and writing, walking, thinking, writing.” What arose was a way of existing directly in the sense perceptions, in the images arising with them, in even the written words and spaces as they unscrolled as the poet wrote them down, pausing for a few moments to jot them in a tiny notebook. The pieces of knowledge and speculation that inevitably attach in the mind as it moves stay in the mix. Nothing is left out of this unscrolling. The phrase “as if” echoes through the poem(s): little stone cairns signaling not just a slight shift, as an enlarging view of meaning, but an awareness of a shift that is a discontinuity, itself a step in the walking poem, the poem walking. This is a poem where the continuous moment and movement—the environment if you will—takes over any prior presumed location of the one writing (and thinking and walking). When you read it, take every word literally.
Ratcliffe’s answer to Basho, More Rocks travels along an axis of spontaneity and formal restraint, distance and intimacy, where natural landscape becomes a landscape of the mind. It is poetry as practice, a moving meditation, that form of presence – continuous/as moments.
Paperback: 104 pages.
Paperback: 136 pages.