Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Sights and Insights by Dennis Daly in Night Walking with Nathaniel, poems of Salem
in Night Walking with Nathaniel, poems of Salem
article by Michael Todd Steffen
Night Walking with Nathaniel by Denis Daly is a generous book of 95 pages of poetry based on the poet’s historical town of Salem, home of one of America’s most beloved authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne, hailed in the collection’s title poem as Daly’s steward spirit.
Dark lore of the “ghost-glamoured” city imbues and haunts Daly’s muse, unflinching to name horrors past and present, “poxed patients” of a convalescing hospital, “contagion” of lead mills. The poet’s leaning is for the macabre and dire, giving us fantastic portrayals of local figures in their memorable agonies, such as this one from “The Death of Giles Corey”:
Hideous to observe the tongue
grotesque and turgid, protruded
out as if he, intent upon
expelling some poisonous intruder… (p. 73)
or for the desolation and turbulence of the northern ocean, as in this opening stanza of “Great Misery Island”:
Coiling white caps brace the grayness
The salt sea shrieks and shrieks again
Against the unchanging, anxious
Sky-vault, a lone and sorry man… (p. 43)
“The Can Do in Salem Sound,” about a pilot boat lost in the New England blizzard of ’78, is a gem of a ballad worth quoting at more length:
Green water engulfs the boat’s bow,
The given grace of God gathers force
Into the carve of gale; the bellow
From blizzard’s blunt maw, a concourse
Of rolling ice-walls, the slash of belt,
Knees buckle under it, ripped raw, blind.
Radar gone, guises dropped, fates misdealt
Over grim gunnel. Five men entwined,
One life, one ground swell birthed, rolls out
To another far off strand, ungrudged.
Why, Lord, do men give all, without doubt,
Ride to the gun’s crack, their lives judged… (p. 37)
Spondees reminiscent of G. M. Hopkins’s inscape rhythms, a prophet’s tone of admonishments and fate echoing Robert Lowell’s early North Atlantic verses, as well as a modern Celtic lyricism of truncated pentameter and off-rhymes foist up and resonate through Daly’s persistent music. It is the supra-literate accent and intuition, however, of a distinct geographical sensibility that will strike the reader familiar with nearly any North Atlantic town or village, here in America, over in Ireland, England, France as the wry and plangeant soul that lives on in its bracing sea weathered people to this day.
Marked by an intense preoccupation with place, Daly hovers about and belabors the ancestral phenomenon of and his attachment to this sea, with a clansman’s love and bitter argument. The amplitude of Night Walking with Nathaniel owes much to this enchantment and curse upon Daly. It lingers and takes up again on the verge of giddiness like porch chimes in a gale.
Amid the moans of ghosts and the sea’s winds, Daly manages to bring the reader several ordinary sights of typical small town America on dry land where he grew up, including landmarks, monuments, historical houses, a row of poplars, seen in daylight around vacationers and locals, kids out of school sunbathing and swimming. The place’s characters are not to escape the endearments of communal derision, not Eddie the wonderful, ill-fated football hero any more than the nuns – “this harem of Christ” – who teach at Saint Mary’s school. If the poet can share a grimace with each of his intimates in these poems, that’s only how familiar he is with his people. They speak like knocks on the shoulder and fake jabs to the gut.
Gifted and practiced in poetry, solid and grainy in sensibility, Daly makes a likely and likeable companion for both his iconic spirit and the lean-to reader of this volume full of character, myth and lights, day and night, unsparing and spectral.
by Dennis Daly
is available from Dos Madres Press, Inc.
P. O. Box 294, Loveland, Ohio 45140