Ross Brighton’s A Pelt, A Shrub, A Soil Sample (Neoismist Press, 2009)
A Pelt, A Shrub, A Soil Sample is a limited edition chapbook by New Zealand poet Ross Brighton (with accompanying drawings by Annie Mackenzie). Some of you may know Brighton from his energetic activity around the blogosphere, but if you don’t know his poetry, I recommend checking it out.
Before even receiving this chapbook in the mail—published by Neoismist Press, “a small publishing label based in the extinct volcano of Lyttelton on Banks Peninsula”—the captivating title, which is also the name of Brighton’s blog, had lodged in my head. Because of the syllabic count of the phrase, I had immediately thought of the memorable beginning of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life: “A pause, a rose, something on paper.” But after reading this difficult but ultimately rewarding text, I realized that the three terms in Brighton’s title are carefully chosen synecdoches for the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. Within the poems we do indeed find references to a “narwhal,” “fir boughs,” and “alabaster.” Despite the slim length of this chapbook, there is an ambitious impulse here to account for the variety, splendor, and strangeness of the natural world. Yes, this is nature poetry, but nature seen through the sophisticated lens of an Objectivist. Think Ed Roberson and his syntactical complexity, his compressed intensity rather than the easy fluency of, say, a Mary Oliver.
“Pay close attention to the mechanics,” says Brighton in “Body,” and both the mechanics of the natural world he describes and the mechanics of the poetic world he creates are wonderfully fresh and dynamic:
the brightly flowing trees
the aerodynamics of
this incumbent silence
the dance, from form dove
to out above
a silent madrigal turning
on the axis of equinox
The density of sound in this last excerpt (the assonance of the short “a” sounds, the anagrammatic slide from “from” to “form”, the “dove”/”above” rhyme, the “x” sounds that anchor the end of the phrase) is quite typical of Brighton’s muscular writing. I also enjoyed the many creative Anglo-Saxon-like compounds that nicely thickened the music of the poetry: “shadow-dapple,” “sun-cut,” “woad-loaded.” Sound-loaded and noise-dappled, this is a poetry that fills the mouth with richness.