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Volume 38.2
Summer 2007

book review:

Tumulus
by John Martone

Reviewed by Bruce Ross

Tumulus, by John Martone (Charleston, Ill.: Dogwood & Honeysuckle, 2006). 70 pages. 5.25 x 4.25. Paper covers; softbound, saddle-stapled. No ISBN. Free from the author at 1031 Tenth St., Charleston, IL 61920-2823.

This small volume of perhaps our most prolific minimalist haiku poet seems a kind of culmination of the hermeticism John Martone has been angling for over the years with shorter and longer vertical haiku. The "narrative" of the volume is a syntactically pared-down glimpse of natural mysticism, perhaps encountered on an overnight camping trip or a long day. Tumulus is an ancient grave mound here personalized to a friend or the poet’s inner self:

some pebbles—
my dead friend’s
here

tumulus
—no
no one

Nature becomes a sacred site for the fusion of a Buddhist empty mind wih nature itself that percolates memories and insight into things. The poet is working at a superfine level that justifies the truncated idiom. The first haiku augers his intention and the last haiku may be a Whitmanesque call to the reader to the insight of the volume:

alone
all you’ve
brought w you

you're part of this secret

Martone is writing in the hermetic vein where words are stripped to their essential being as "naked poetry." Hermeticism has been called an "aesthetic mysticism," and such a definition applies to Tumulus. St. Francis seems alluded to in some poems’ phrasing: "forgive / me/ mosses" or "thank you / brother /squirrel." And the sacredness of nature is acknowledged:

autumn
woods

on my
knees

In several of the haiku ritualized structures resembling Native American scared constructs or eco-installations like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and the site-specific natural constructions of Andy Goldsworthy appear:

place twigs
& pebbles

around this
moss circle



hollow
sy
camore

trunk’s
my "no

house"
chimney

Martone explores various modes of nature mysticism and enters shamanic trance states. Nature reveals its secrets and is transformed as is the poet:

this
pebble
bears

a
quarter-
inch

deep
pond

this mushroom
its own
moonlight

all along
these pines
showing you how

In Tumulus natural realities: acorns, trees, pebbles, sunlight, darkness, etc., become metaphors of evolving mental states as well as hermetic words that open up to their actual "interior" presences. In summary, Tumulus is a challenging but rewarding volume.

 

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