The End of the World
American critic William Logan described Amy Clampitt’s poetry as the product of a mind “determined by its elsewheres”. This suggestion could well apply to the poetry of Maria Takolander. The End of the World is her second major collection, and is arranged thematically into three sections. The first involves childbirth and domesticity; the second, real and imagined landscapes; the third, portrayals of human cruelty, both emotional and physical.
“Unborn”, the opening sequence of part 1, is a potent overview of the stages of a pregnancy, and summons comparisons with Paul Muldoon’s poems that chronicle the birth of his daughter. The major difference is that where Muldoon’s imagination can be at once intensely personal and oddly universal, Takolander tends to move incrementally towards personal observation and description. The effect is one of dislocation, not an invitation to intimacy.
Where Muldoon includes imagined scenes within a sonogram image (“we can make out not only a hand but a thumb; on the road to Spiddal, a woman hitching a ride; a gladiator in his net, passing judgment on the crowd”), Takolander approaches then shies away from description of the foetus:
You do not know
that we are here, but this is how we watch you…
Other poems in part 1 use metaphors for pregnancy and childbirth, even when the poem’s subject matter seems anathema to their inclusion. “47 degrees”, a short lyrical sequence that has the Black Saturday fires at its core, is the exception, as it seems the perfect vehicle for symbols of life and death, destruction and resurrection.
Part 2 finds Takolander attending to myth and legend, earth and water, and where figures from her past and present appear and then dissolve. Her tendency to invoke yet not clearly define the various folk in her poems is unsettling. The two poems where she gives substantial, surreal detail to people are “Missing in Action” and “Mushrooms” and they are stronger for this attention to detail.
Part 3, with its blending of lyrical, narrative and prose poems, is a complex, ambitious work, and the one where Takolander’s gifts for haunted vision are given free rein. Poems such as “Show Business”, “Witch” and “Violence” are wonderful examples of how taking risks with imagination and storytelling tradition can make fine poetry. DL
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 3, 2014 as "Maria Takolander, The End of the World". Subscribe here.