By Nate Logan
Photography by Leeta Harding
It can be hard to be a fan. With a global pandemic raging, the fandom experience of “being there”—whether in the sports arena or at the movie theater—is severely limited. For fans of authors, we wait. For fans of popular authors, there’s the slight possibility that a writer’s published overture will make its way to TV. But what if you’re a fan of the most obscure kind of author: a poet?
This was the situation this fan was navigating these last few years of the decade. Shanna Compton’s last book, Brink, was published in 2013. As she shared via Twitter updates of poems being published here and there, she also detailed the struggle of putting together a new manuscript. Twitter won’t allow me to travel far enough back in time to find these tweets, but I remember reading 140-character statements of cutting poems, reordering, starting over, etcetera. As a book designer and editor of her own small press, many things were competing for Compton’s time, I knew. And as silly as it sounds, I was worried it would be many, many years before the next book would manifest. Luckily, that was not the case, and double luckily, it was worth the wait.
(CREATURE SOUNDS FADE) reminds me a great deal of Compton’s first book, Down Spooky. Many of the poems in this new book are composed of lyrical vignettes where it feels like, as a reader, I’m swaying in and out of the text. From “Ongoing Experiment”:
I wondered if wonder would reach a terminal stop
The tint in the air of the kitchen in the first house
I remembered & tried not to the odor
of the carpet in the apartment I never had any trouble
recalling the green paint soothed onto
the classroom chalkboards I changed my name
at seven I had some big reason, I guess
Sprinkled throughout the book are some more narrative moments, which are equally as engaging. The long poem, “White Chrysanthemums,” (which has its own section and title (INDISTINCT CLAMORING)) contains multiple, memoirish pieces ([my mother] hadn’t realized / I was so caring. As if there’s any other reason to pull so / hard, away! Here, I’ll tell you a story…). This narrative impulse becomes more universal in the poem, “Misnomer,” where Compton writes:
When I am angry that poems
do nothing I am angry
& poems do appear to hold it
I run over the brim of the bowl
I hold my arms out to the trashed earth
& all its frightened & ferocious people
Avid poetry fans will recognize Compton’s reference and riffing here on W.H. Auden’s famous line, “For poetry makes nothing happen.” And I think many poetry fans and even casual readers would agree with Compton’s sentiment (as she makes evident throughout the book). Poetry is a place of refuge and a place that can hold one’s anger. In “A friend laments,” she writes, “[O]ur vocabulary can feel / so thin in places,” and that’s why there’s poetry, I think: to explore the depth of human concerns and experience, and if we’re lucky, spur us to action.
(CREATURE SOUNDS FADE) isn’t so much a return to form, as it is a welcome return. Compton reminds us in these poems about the uncanny beauty of nature and the complexities of our inner lives. It seems very fitting, in a year when many of us were by ourselves, that this book emerges and asks us to look deeper, to pay attention to sounds, fainting and loud, around us. In one of the last poems in the book, “Dropped Eaves,” Compton writes, “I hope we make it out of the wings / or maybe we’ll finally get them.”
I hope so, too.
by Shanna Compton
Black Lawrence Press $17.95
Nate Logan is the author of *Inside the Golden Days of Missing You* (Magic
Helicopter Press, 2019). He teaches at Franklin College and Marian