Monday, May 31, 2010

Review of Alex Grant's "Fear of Moving Water"

Review of Fear of Moving Water
by Alex Grant
Wind Publications, 2009, 64 pages
ISBN: 9781936138029

Those, like myself, who have been fans of Alex Grant’s poetry for a while, have reason to be happy. His new book, Fear of Moving Water, takes the best poems from his first two chapbooks, Chains and Mirrors and The White Book and adds to them several new poems to create a more impressive and more cohesive collection. Those who are new fans of his work also have reason to be happy as they will once more have access to the poems from the chapbooks which had become hard to find.

Reading Alex Grant’s poems always reminds me of the only rule of poetry--that it must be interesting, and maybe occasionally fun as well. Imagine, for example, the unfortunate students who try to follow through on the ideas presented in Grant’s “Poetry Midterm” or “Poetry Final:”

Establish a credible connection between
the following: the curve of a woman’s breast,
a 1957 Cadillac Imperial, monotheism. Result
must be enjoyable to the average reader,
and be small enough to hold in one hand.


Explain the attraction of the moon.
In no more than thirty-two lines, suggest
a new name for the number zero.
Combine the responses in a 12-line pantoum.

One suspects, given the seamless pleasure and technical dexterity of these poems, that if anyone can follow these seemingly absurd prompts, it would only be Grant himself. Who else, after all, could manage to transport their reader to the Antarctic tent of Captain Robert Scott not for the thrill of discovering the South Pole but the much more human and enjoyable discovery that

. . . Captain Oates masturbates
constantly -- even during dinner -- he claims
it’s simply a mechanism to keep his body temperature
up -- though we all have our doubts. I no longer feel
comfortable shaking hands with the man, and last night
he told me that he wants me to have his babies.

Like most good poets, Grant reminds us to take note of more of life. He brings to our attention, for example, such things as “the dry doggerel / of mackerel scales” (“Black Moon”), “the clacking / cobblestones wrapped in centuries of ash” (“The Gardens of Pompeii”), and “the heart’s iambic thud” (“The Long, Slow Drop”). And like most good poets, as these lines make apparent, he would also have us take more note of the joy inherent in the abilities of language and sound to not only reflect but also uncover life. Where he differs from most other poets, however, is that Grant might add, in the written equivalent of his unmistakable Scottish accent, “but don’t take any of it too [add expletive of your choice] seriously.” My favorite of his poems, “Giant,” best illustrates his ability (in the tradition of Nazim Hikmet) to examine the seriousness of life with a bit of unforgettable levity, as he ponders the life and times of a midge:

I read once that garden midges only live for around
ten minutes, and as I watched a swarm of them, I picked
one out, kept my eyes fixed on him, lit a cigarette, and tried
to imagine his life. I did the math, and decided that eight
midge seconds equaled one of our years, and as he moved
from the top to the bottom of the cloud, he had two affairs
and a nervous breakdown right there. . . .
. . . By the time my
cigarette had burned less than half-way down, he’d written
a number of wildly successful self-help flying manuals,
as well as his acclaimed study of midge relationships --
. . . He’d had liposuction and wing implants
. . . His therapist advised
him to adopt a lower public profile, but he was insistent that
he alone had secured the swarm’s tenure of the tree, and that
the other midges ought to damn-well recognize his contribution
and reward him accordingly. He died three quarters of the way
into my cigarette, convinced that the rest of the swarm
were plotting to run him down with a golf-cart.

He was truly a giant among midges.


  1. Nice review, Scott! A satisfying peek into the deep, irreverent and always satisfying work of Alex Grant.

  2. Great critical essay. I love the midges piece too, but I can't help feeling it's not really poetry--rather an exquisite little essay. Oh dear, do I just date myself?