‘A Book of Odes’

A small (3×4 inches) chapbook by Alan Baker (whom I know fairly well) on Red Ceiling Press. There’s lots of formal surface appeal to it: a knowing urbanity; sense of language drawing you in; how the short lines add up as if saying nothing further; the clever use of lists/ampersand; a consistently hardworking diction; strong use of environmental science; etc.. Yet I was – so it turned out – non-plussed by the figuration. From the second “ode”, I do just want to “shrug”, which must not be the desired reading:

& sense of purpose
in a world
that wears us
so lightly
a shrug
might shake
us loose
to apprehend lichen
healing the sycamore’s bark

There are six odes, same as Keats, which directly relates the book – in an indeterminate kind of way – to some recent poems of Sheppard. Like Keats, the sixth one is the odd one out; he wrote his in Autumn, this was written listening to music. I dislike the “ode”. If not for that, I might have considered this more successful than the rest of his work I’ve read. I have no formal knowledge of music, so it’s not that I disagree with his descriptions, but lines like the first one (“an echo of an electron”) read as if Baker has lost control of the their sounds, and – I won’t argue for it – I don’t think in a suitable way.