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