Monday, May 24, 2010

Review of "Waiting" by Ron Moran

(first published in Wild Goose Poetry Review, Spring 2010,

Review of Waiting, by Ron Moran
Clemson University Digital Press, 2009
66 pages, $15
ISBN: 9780984259809

Noodling is the practice of fishing, usually for catfish, with one’s bare hands, typically by letting the fish bite one’s finger, or for larger fish, one’s hand and then wrestling the fish to the surface. I’ve never been noodling and probably never will, but I’ve always thought I should use it in a poem. It’s just the sort of thing the people I grew up with would be likely to do. Now, however, Ron Moran has beaten me to it in his remarkable poem “The Best Deer Tracker in Northern Louisiana.” Many might think it incongruous to have noodling in a poem about a dinner party, but that sort of odd juxtaposition is part of the joy of the poems in Moran’s new book, Waiting, and in organic fashion, the incongruity of imagery is repeated in the very structure of these poems where lines of 5 to 6 beats are often alternated with lines of only 1 to 2 beats.

Another source of pleasure in these poems derives from Moran’s facility with language and with complex sentences, in particular. Moran’s skills in this regard forge a seamless stream-of-consciousness in which entire stories unfold dependent clause after dependent clause forming only 2 or 3 sentences across 30 to 40 lines of poetry, all without any of the herky-jerkiness often associated with that style of narration. This technique creates an impressive sense of the interconnectedness of experience without the breathless rush of Whitman, the Beats or other long-lined poets.

While the poems convey this sense of the vital interwovenness of existence and experience, these are not obtuse, abstract philosophical meanderings. Rather, they explore the proper subjects of poetry, the familiar and commonplace, in such a way that they help us examine our own lives and recognize the deeper significance of the quotidian, of everyday things. Through the syntax of clause and phrase, they also help us appreciate the importance of location as one way we are capable of perceiving the relatedness of things. In “Airing Out the Jacket,” for example, the jacket hangs, “out back / on the bare limb of a maple on a bright December day.” Prepositions are words that relate a noun to another word or phrase in the sentence, and such piling up of prepositions emphasizes the relationships between things, teaching us not only what to value but why, a why that Moran is intimately and tragically familiar with. The subtext of mortality that runs throughout these poems is almost certainly influenced by the prolonged illness of Moran’s wife during the time that they were written. This is nowhere more apparent than in the title poem, “Waiting,” where Moran reflects on one’s inability to anticipate resolutions despite one’s proximity to them:
Pretty good,
I suppose, just to be here, for the moment
at least,
which may change momentarily . . . //
waiting //
for something to happen or not to happen . . . //
Is this how it’s going to be:
a blush in the sky that declares the next day.

English teachers and poets love complex sentences because, unlike their simple or compound counterparts which merely establish that one or more things happen or exist, they acknowledge relationships between things, events, ideas. Not surprisingly, Moran is both a poet and an English teacher. His practice of using dependent clauses to embody the reality of the relatedness of experiences will reach its climax in different poems for different readers. For me it happens in the volume’s most beautiful and poignant poem, “A Blessing,” where the tenderness and carefulness with which the details of the poem are put forth reflect the same qualities that were certainly present in Moran’s relationship with his beloved wife:
If my right hip aches when I first lie down,
I turn to face Jane, who always faces me
since her left side is a corridor of pain . . . //
She holds my left wrist in her thin fingers,
as if to convince me of some belief, that //
this is how it should be, or else she plays
in earnest with the fingers of my right hand,
so I cup her hand leisurely in mine, closing
it slowly, feeling her tremors until my hand //
calms hers, and I whisper, Time to sleep;
and as she does, I count interludes between
breaths, longer than ever before but steady,
then release her, knowing how blessed I am.

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