Reviewed by Rusty Barnes
Agnes Vojta's Porous Land is nearly textbook minimalism.. Every word seems created specifically for the task she sets it to perform in the poem. I don't mean minimalist to an extreme, but rather that there is no fat on the words. The overall effect is a bracing shiver of recognition at the natural world and our place in it, as well as how that world shapes our thoughts.
I found myself in a sort of dream-state the deeper I got into the collection. in the "Greening Begins from the Ground," Vojta sets up a scene not by telling us what is in the scene but instead what is not, in lovely simple phrases and lines: "Not in the high places/that still belong to winter/not on the barren ridges/where buzzards rest on bare branches,//but in the valleys". In the valleys she describes, with an Eastern feel, where "shy white flowers hide" in the manner of Japanese masters of meditational verse.. I'm very much in the moment of the poem, my eye flowing along the images but then Vojta stumbles a bit. The Eastern feel ends at "green shoots push through the soil" and Vojta adds an unnecessary two-line coda that hammers the point home by doubling up and restating the title, a momentary and unfortunate twitch in an otherwise fine poem.
In another poem, somewhat later on in the collection, Vojta gives us a deft thirty-nine word epiphany: "The Spring Rains Were Relentless." Here she gives a class in how to use strong verbs. This river never merely flows (thank god) but "smashes", "slashes," "slices" and "crashes." Houses caught by the water "struggle" and "thrash" and "swirl," and this short poem finishes by cutting away from the house breaking up as it follows the stream, to another human intrusion in this powerful flash flood. "The round eye/of the satellite dish/does not blink/before drowning.
There are highlights on nearly every page here, but I want to discuss one more poem which can stand in for the whole of this fine book. I'll quote it in its entirety.
The heron is the color
of a November morning.
Fog wets the river rocks.
Fossils faintly echo
a gray past.
I shall take one stone
through its waterworn hole
and see the future.
It's not that the images here are overtly unusual, but that this first stanza is nearly matchless in its rhythm and breaks, the subtle and deliberate repetitions that make up the poet's inimitable voice. The great blue heron makes an appearance here for the second or third--maybe more?--time in this collection. A November morning where I live, next to the ocean, also includes a damp, somewhat desolate and gray fog, so I'm already buying into what the poet is selling me, and. when the last stanza kicks in, and I think of how many stones my children and I have brought home from oceans and rivers wherever we've gone, I live that again through Vojta's poem. I've seen that waterworn hole in the stone, and I can find my own future there too. You could ask more of a poem, probably, but this is pretty damned satisfying to me. 4.5 stars of 5.
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