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Book Review: Unbeknownst


“The poet thinks with his poem, in that lies the thought, and that itself is the profundity.” Wiliam Carlos Williams’ famous dictum echoes strongly in Julie Hanson’s new collection, Unbeknownst. Each poem finds her patiently tracing her fingers along the contours of her life, feeling for the smallest crannies. The opening poem, “Use the Book,” begins with an invocation to the reader that becomes an invocation to the writer herself: “…pages so soft they whisper right on by. / Perfect for fishing.” Each line in the poem unreels with a smooth unhurried dignity, gently rippling but never disrupting the placidity of Hanson’s thought. After all, fishing, Hanson realizes, is not about unbridled force; bringing up the big fish involves soft hands, a keen eye, and a whole lot of patience.

Patience is a vital prerequisite of transcendence; transcendence is not a progression but a cycle, like any natural rhythm. “Here I go again, knee-deep through the leaves, knowing / full well now, and with what regularity, everything changes.” The continuity of Julie Hanson’s work lies with this patience. She offers meticulously detailed records of her inner seasons, moment by moment, as they come and go. This is her intimacy–nothing is exempt. She understands the value of authenticity, like the Buddhist monk who cleaned his home in anticipation of his guests, only to return it to its usual condition prior to their arrival. This kind of honesty is both sincere and anxiety inducing for her. “That’s why any change at all is presumed to have weight. / That’s why any sound is the sound of arrival.” She knows that the moment she wakes to discover “what was burning / was the sun, full up and brilliant,” has as much transiency as the moment in which she despairs to herself “Once…things happened, / and you were changed by them.” This natural continuity between moments is emblematic of a deeper rhythm, a rhythm which, the poet would have us understand, is to be embraced.

This rhythm is contained within our daily lives. Attention to the quotidian does not sanctify monotony; like cracking a seemingly innocuous piece of wood to reveal the teeming insects inside, it exposes the bounty of life contained within the smallest moments. Nothing is to be ignored because everything possesses possibility, be it positive or negative: a slaloming neighborhood kid, a yoga session at the Y, a voicemail from a sibling, a stranger at an airport terminal, the drive to a church function. Detailing inner thoughts requires the detailing of a life’s events, objects and people. Even the snippets of conversation in “Grab the Far End” are recorded for the revelatory potential they possess. In Unbeknownst, the invitation to discovery is everywhere.

Yet Hanson’s poems recognize that discovery does not always offer itself easily. Thoughts, like vegetation, require care. “It is redundant, stubborn work,” she declares in “Remedial Weeding,” but necessary, especially during “those times when the heart, still / resonant and stunned, / is dominant.” In “Double Bed” Hanson harvests nature-imagery again to describe her mental flora, recalling how her eyes “…anchored on a word in the book / and the thought-waters of the day / flooded over it, mucked it up.” This melding of nature with that of her own interior landscape occurs often and for good reason: She is aware she finds reassurance in nature’s example. “The female cardinal isn’t the least bit / disappointed that the shade of red she is is brown.” A relationship between the poet’s self and nature is necessary for the mediation of cerebral dead ends. “Disappointment is a theme too available to me. / Judgment another. / Would that I were rid of them.”

It might be that impatient readers overlook these poems by virtue of the peace around which the poems center. Hanson’s work flows from this source in lines so fluid and cadenced that it is easy to underappreciate or miss entirely the delicacy of her ear; a refined delicacy that illuminates her every thought, each one “a fragile threadline of orange.” However, if the reader takes Hanson’s pace as a guide, the images in these poems steal up and disclose subtle rifts. They parse the doubts that arise in even the most peaceful existence. When her mind seems threatened by shadows, Hanson’s lines continue to pulse and glow: “The lightbulbs in their sockets / worked, but seemed past / their greatest power.” In moments when “… words never seemed to / help me to my meaning, but swept / the top of what that was, / speaking only of the season,” she persists. Always there are these undercurrents that look to threaten our wholeness. Nevertheless, even if hope should flit away before it is glimpsed, Julie is aware of the solution. “Wait.”


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