Friday, February 01, 2013

The Cranberry Island Series by Donald Wellman

Reviewed by Pam Rosenblatt

Donald Wellman’s The Cranberry Island Series was published by Dos Madres Press in December 2012. Like his Prolog Pages (Ahadada, 2009) , Wellman has written another book that sometimes offers a challenge to read and understand. That’s probably because Wellman is working with literal translations, or transliterations.
The Cranberry Island Series has essays that are not reads that you can simply sit down, turn the pages, and figure out what this author is writing about. To read The Cranberry Island Series is to have the book in one hand and a dictionary/thesaurus in the other. Or, more practically, you can utilize internet access.
                In this book, Wellman writes in a multitude of genres: essay, poetry, translation, autobiography, family history, and more. A most intriguing piece is “A Poetics of Transcription” in which Wellman discusses Charles Olson’s Maximus. Wellman writes, “I am seeking to go beyond projective verse and approach a practice that is more nearly my own…” In this essay, Wellman analyzes how Olson takes prose and puts it into poetry without changing any of the words. It’s called:


                                  comes generally
                                              under the

…a process that occurs in moving from prose to verse as in the
many examples that are to be found in Maximus.

Wellman does nice work translating The Seafarer from Old English(ll 1-65a) into modern English. He writes in a lyrical, steadily moving style that is easy for the reader to read and comprehend. Perhaps this is because Wellman is being true to his writing style:

I want to speak the truth, to tell
about my travels and the hardships
which I have endured, the feelings
in my breast when I heard the keel
groan, terrible heaving of the sea
Nights I had to keep a close watch
clinging to the prow when the boat
plunged, seas breaking over ledges
Chains of ice, held me fast by the
legs, iron fetters of frost Sorrow
sighing hot in the heart like fire
I fought hunger and mind sea weary
from watchfulness. You who have it
all so easy on land don’t know how
poorly I fared on the cruel winter
sea, loneliness, longing for close
friends  Rime, icicles in my beard
Hail-scur flew  I heard naught but
hammering seas   Gannets sang to me
The ducks played games to amuse me….

Wellman’s poetry is clear, original and captures the reader’s attention, as seen in “Memorial Day”

No one  took my photo when I wore the uniform
In those days we did not wear it in the streets.

Instead we dressed like the kids back home
and sang, “Lay lady, lay across my big brass bed.”

Everything was bigger then and the smell of wax
and shoe polish mixed with acrid tobacco

and made us unhappy to be men at all
but I had a child, a golden tender boy for whom

the sparkle of a ring on a chain meant incandescent joy
and his mother nursed him in the forests of Oregon

where we lived for a time under a translucent tent
and fished in the Three Sisters with a Cherokee

named Joe. The blue glacial waters turned flesh
to ghost white radiance and the war continued.

The journey through the pages of The Cranberry Island Series is not a lazy one. It keeps your mind active, and the book is quite a memorable read.

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