Joe Denham’s second collection of poetry is aptly titled. From the first line and page, Windstorm sweeps the reader in with powerful, all-encompassing imagery couched in rapid, muscular tercets. That unrelenting rhythm swoops from the broad – swirling cyclones, wild seas, wheeling flocks of birds – to the grimly specific: the pain, panic and bloodshed of an injury inflicted with a saw while mending a fence. The plunge from the immense natural world to the personal in spiritual and bodily senses, to the even microscopically analytical is often swift, breathtaking, dense and condensed:the artery opened to a world now losing
ocean life oceans wide (spirit
of its soul) and through in time life renews it is a world beyond weeping the exiting
blood enters, it is perpetual
shock, miasma, day upon day, it is bees leaving the hive, then lost (little
wonder, little wonders)
it is the cost analysis, and the cost … Even when a bit of comparative whimsy slips into the passionate barrage of what is essentially one poem in five sections marked with epigraphs, the momentum never lets up. When the reader encounters the rueful “Under a clusterfuck of stars (the names of which I’ve never / cared to learn …” one might think things are switching to a more contemplative pace. However, the next stanza ricochets from someone on cocaine screaming on a cellphone to that crazed cell signal bouncing off satellites, to the life of fish, to the poet’s brain radiating in that cell signal … and the interconnected images, vignettes and philosophizing blaze on, both exhilarating and verging on exhausting. Admittedly, all that windswept swooping and the intense rhythms can produce some dizziness – albeit not unpleasant – in a reader. Perhaps some more modulation, more variety of form and tone, would then set the most powerful aspects in even stronger contrast. Some spare, succinct lines could have as much thematic and emotional impact as the onslaught that preceded it. After all, aren’t we often most in awe of the power of a storm once the world falls silent and then the small, modest sounds of life resume? This is my first introduction to Denham’s work. He has a previous poetry collection, Flux, published in 2003, and a forthcoming novel, The Year of Broken Glass. Windstorm inspires this reader to look back and look forward to what Denham will do next.