Ronnie Brown. States of Matter. (Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press, Palm Poets Series, 2005), Paper bound, 96 pp., $17.95.
The cover photograph of an autumn leaf reflecting the rich spectral hues of a lifetime of seasons lived is an eloquent metaphor for the title of Ronnie Brown’s fourth book. In the 44 narrative poems of this collection Brown’s intense and acute observations of changes throughout the seasons in the body of nature are subtly interwoven with those in the life cycles of its human subjects. A wealth of imagery portrays the subjectivity of life to blatantly inconsistent and unexpected forces of nature, as though these were playing a game with ever-changing rules.
In the first of the book’s two sections, ‘Cold Snaps and Heat Spells’ the poems are deeply attuned to the not-so-subtle signs of slipping into Fall and through the consecutive seasons into the next Summer. Descriptions of seasonal conduct are alive with the colours of feelings, sights, smells, sounds, thoughts and moods. The senses may be acutely focused at times, or softened under a ‘gauzy filter’ (Summer Haze). The experiences so vividly expressed in each poem of this section are familiar to all who live in Canada and in similar climates: “Hint of mothballs / mixed with the scent / of wool. Sweater days, / the sun gone / before you know it./ One afternoon / you find yourself / pulling your hands up / into your sleeves...” (Artificial Heat).
What the poet does not miss is the annually renewed awe and wonder at the vanguard of the seasons: ...”migrating flock trails, undulating / like a gymnast’s ribbon, sound / surrounding their sky exercise / as they pass overhead, / point the way. / And those below / stare, transfixed, until / the geese are no more / than cipher and echo / a soundless speck / in human eyes.” (“If Winter Comes...”).
Nor is humour omitted in ‘Black Ice’ when....” you stride out, discover / that you’ve been swept off your feet – a tell-tale glint / the last thing you see before / this fantasy world proves itself to be / too damn slick for the likes of you.” And in another when a last fly of Fall is trapped in the house and buzzes the incumbent like ...”a kamikaze insect bent on self-destruction.” ( A Modern Relationship).
In the poem ‘Body Heat’ the narrator’s anguish in witnessing a road kill borders on the surreal: ...”Seconds dead, wound still gushing ...steam-like wisps / rising from the gash, merging / with dusk’s invisibility. / Body heat, she asks herself, / or did she see the creature / spirit rising?
In the second half of States of Matter are thirty poems respectively related to and interspersed in each of the ten part poem ‘Driving Instincts’ relating the narrator’s drive to visit her dying mother-in-law. This section is akin to a ride into the winter of a life in a passing generation richly illustrated with flashbacks in the lives of all three generations at a pivotal time. Kaleidoscopic scenes are colourfully relived in the experiences of the narrator and her relationship with her relatives, friends and lovers. Poems poignant for their subjects are ‘Suffer the Little Children’ and ‘Sins of Omission’ on childhood abuse; ‘Apology’ on too little time spent with a dying friend, and ‘In the Backseat (In Reverse)’, ‘The Scientific Method’, ‘Pheromones’ and ‘Heat Spell’ for their sensuality and passion, .
The title of the collection comes from “States of Matter”: ....” inside the kettle / molecules are becoming / excited, bumping into one another / like her grandson and his friends / when they dance ...arms waving, / hips swinging, moving faster and faster.../ ...molecular activity, the nature of states of matter, how the kettle’s / whistling is really the finale of a dance.”
Each of Ronnie Brown’s poems is a mini-movie. Each, to varying extent, is an expression of universal experience in the human condition, and conveyed in language rich with imagery, but always direct and accessible.
Reviewed by Betty Warrington-Kearsley