All posts by Charles Kell

Somewhere in Space: A Reading with Talvikki Ansel

Talvikki Ansel’s third collection of poems, Somewhere in Space (The Ohio State University

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Press, 2015), explores such disparate themes as nature, ecology, how our individualities crisscross with those both living and dead, and history’s tangential relationship to our lives, to name only a few. Through Ansel’s layered reading, the poems accrued weight, their multifold lenses jutting in and out of various landscapes, with the underlying thread, Ansel noted, of an attempt “to figure out.”

Ansel opened with the first poem from her collection, “Leap Years,” reading in a measured, assured voice which delicately yet forcefully carried each word: “The hippo of patience / but not complacency / stares out over the frozen / landscape, icicles on the willow, / sharp sun.” The opening depicts a miniature figurine, which once “was a tree but now / am a palm-sized hippo / in a country of snow.” There is so much work being done in these first few lines that they are worth lingering over, as they set the mood of the entire text. The figure is one of patience “but not of complacency” which depicts Ansel’s searching, rigorously penetrating poetics perfectly. The hippo further muses “My descendants (there were flowers, there were / seeds) will become / the decks of a boat / exposed to sun / and molecules of light, / will travel to secluded coves, / night, planets, the milky way.” Here is the infinitesimal in all its multiform guises reaching out to touch and encompass time and space. “Leap Years” illustrates the leaping nature of Ansel’s project; a project, though, that is always both anchored in the ephemera of the day-to-day, while also reaching toward nature, objects and the past.

“How it Sounds,” locates the various calls of birds, using Bird Sounds and Their Meaning (1977) by Rosemary Jellis and Roger F. Pasquier’s Watching Birds (1977) as points of departure. Here, the speaker wonders “What did she hear who first lived / at the P.O.—crows, the gray-white shorebird’s / piercing loud, obvious whistles, / song versus call—” that quickly moves from the exterior, nature’s noises and moods, to the interior: “Clatter of kerosene tins, afternoon fog / blowing in—fog horn, door slam, / letters dropped on the counter for sorting, clang of metal swing door on the mail slot, / mallet’s crack, lunge and splash”—where the accumulation of sounds allows the speaker to move toward the

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commingling with another, and a further move outdoors, where the speaker wonders if both will now hear what their ancestors heard: “the Bulwer’s croon, / eider’s groan and mutter, wind-shift / in the spruce boughs / and depth to sound?” Time, in these few lines, is both expanded and contracted. The reader’s attention is minutely drawn to the various sounds of wildlife happening, but is connected to the larger, weightier notion, that these noises were once heard by not just others, but by ancestors. This is an extremely difficult thing to do: connect the present moment with the past, while all the while delicately balancing the two, before, like the various birds mentioned in the poem, they disappear.

The wild, unsettled, yet always controlled aspects of Ansel’s poems were illustrated in her reading of the title poem, a dazzling ten-part excavation, centering around feral cats, and the Finnish poet, Edith Södergran, who died at the age of 31. “Somewhere in Space,” opens with a “Calico gray, rag-tag she chose our crawl space, / pile of insulation unmoored to the floor / or ceiling, entry above the plywood / tacked there, temporary cover for the hole / beneath the house.” The opening, and its winding, delicate rhythms show the cat making its way. The word “chose” is a careful and important moment. This shows the purpose behind the searching, the looking while moving. The final poem in the cycle depicts Edith Södergran “holding the leash / of a Karelian bear dog (“a hunter / of unyielding bravery and determination”)” and quotes the poet: “‘somewhere in space hangs my heart’ and / ‘sparks fly from it, shaking the air.’” Ansel’s speakers channel past writers, past lives, while always moving, making their way in the present. History is worn and carried but it does not weigh down the present. It is a thing always here, even when one is not aware. It is in both the habitus of one’s being, and when every individual thinks of her or his place in the world. These things seethe and blur, are both almost within our grip yet a breath out of reach. Ansel has already carved out a stunning poetic career. She was chosen by James Dickey for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, for her first collection, My Shining Archipelago (1996). Her second book, Jetty and Other Poems (2003), explores myriad notions of transformation, and the intersection of the human with the natural world. With Somewhere in Space, Ansel continues this journey, while creating new and searching art, poetry, burning like Edith Södergran’s, shaking in the air.