Making a Nest within a Book: Kevin McLellan’s Ornitheology

I want I might clarify to you my expertise studying Kevin McLellan’s latest assortment, Ornitheology. However in fact I can’t clarify it, not likely; that’s a part of the splendor and thriller inherent in any significant encounter with artwork. The expertise is supposed to withstand explication, isn’t it? So as an alternative, I’ll say this:

As I used to be studying Ornitheology, a phrase stored circling overhead. It felt directly inside and aside from me, and I’m positive it’s no coincidence that the phrase flapped its syllables just like the wings of a chook: ges-talt, ges-talt.

This word-bird was persistent sufficient that at one level, I ended to jot down what I knew of its species: an organized entire skilled as larger than the sum of its elements. However as soon as once more, I discovered myself considering: isn’t this all the time the objective of artwork—to create one thing that’s finally unable to be duplicated and irreducible? Two poets might begin out with the identical premise and theme, even the identical set of letters or phrases, and inevitably they might style from them one thing distinctive, greater than a uniform sum or a formulaic accounting-for.

So I went on studying Ornitheology and commenced to gather sure phrases and phrases, entire strains and stanzas that struck me as notably luminous, personally resonant. That is my typical course of as a reader, however till my encounter with this ebook, I had by no means thought-about it akin to constructing a nest. The ebook is a huge panorama in any case, the reader a fowl within it, gathering twigs, mud, leaves, and stones to be able to weave that smaller, whorled place—that half inside the entire—the place we will safely dwell.

Right here is McLellan’s poem that first lent itself to my nested awakening:


What occurred within the triangle of night time?
Why this sleeplessness?
Hassle is the fowl unable to sleep
You’re a fowl [and so I am!] We’re all birds in search of treetops
However the timber have gone lacking
Additionally lacking your siblings [it’s true, I have none] They’ve fallen by means of the ice
They’re underwater
Wanting up on the mountains
Maybe the mountains are your mother and father [immovable as they are] Or God?
But you don’t consider [I favor the nest called agnosticism, certain only of uncertainty] You’re additionally now underwater
Do you consider now? [I favor the nest called maybe, certain only with both doors open] Since you have gotten colder?
You assume I’m numb from the chilly
However what involves thoughts is alive now
Are you your ideas? [I used to think so—thought was my nest] Are you your ideas underneath water?
Beneath ice?
Beneath time?
Beneath the mountains?
Wanting up at your mother and father? [There they are again…] What are you liable for?
The ideas of your mother and father? [Maybe…] Which could even be yours

This poem, like so many in Ornitheology, reads as parable or allegory, but the luminous particulars and resonant inquiries have been severed from—have been by no means tethered to?—any particular ethical crucial. My first thought after studying: How did the poet know? By know, I meant me, my life, the bigger world, every little thing! Maybe you, Fellow Reader, felt one thing comparable? Or maybe you’ll. It’s that paradox of cosmic intimacy: how a single poem can converse to many individuals directly, the expertise as synchronous as it’s divergent.

The archetypal imagery McLellan chooses—night time, timber, birds, mountains, water, mother and father—is acquainted to all of us, already charged with sure collective meanings. However because the poet deftly shapes and sequences the poem—a sibilant river meandering by means of the strains (sleeplessness, lacking siblings), an anaphoric wind filling out the area (are you-are you, under-under-under)—each reader slips beneath the poem’s spell in another way: bathes in it, breathes it in, distinct. No reply is proffered for both our common or our particular person predicaments. Actually, discover how there are not any durations, no full-stops in any respect, solely questions marks on the ends of some strains (uncertainty?) and the absence of query marks (certainty of uncertainty?) on the ends of others. It’s these query marks particularly that I carry again to my nest.

By now, you could be questioning what else I’ve gathered to forge my dwelling-place within this textual content. I’ll present you a few of the fodder McLellan has given me within the strains of his poems:

mud: it interrupts tenderness
twig: these lilies are as white as these passing clouds
mud: one isn’t used to sure phrases but
leaf: I’m/unable to make / a choice within the backyard / concerning the backyard
leaf: The girth of prayer / eludes me once more
twig: a sky turning pink
mud: mild // a seed / the thoughts should carry // on and onward:
mud: Now / conscious of the problem to cease / wanting (within)
leaf: A throat-breaking silence follows
leaf: I uncared for to feed them, the birds (species/ unknown) that lived in my creativeness
leaf: You are worried about me worrying about you
mud: this place the place I can commerce/ in all my ghosts for one hero
twig: How / this sentence undresses me. // There are numerous sorts of music.
mud: Letdown is the odor of heat Windex / simply earlier than it strikes the drugs/ cupboard
mud: ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????
stone: I determine to oblige

Perhaps the stone shouldn’t be even a stone in any respect however an egg that intends to hatch, that portends a risk past what’s seen now. The sentence “I decide to oblige” seems twice within the twelfth part of “Crown,” the ebook’s remaining, masterful poem—its crown, if you’ll. This part is fittingly titled “Things Are Not What They Seem.” The stone, historic and stubborn, can also be/truly the egg, recent and mutable.

In fact there’s a pure sonic pleasure in McLellan’s slant-rhyme, assonance of the lengthy “i” within “decide” and “oblige.” (All the time an I who decides, an I who obliges.) There’s additionally the meta-quality of the sentence and its salient repetition. What occurs as soon as we determine to oblige? (It’s an act of religion, sure? All the time an act of religion.) The egg cracks in an effort to open. The self cracks with a purpose to open. We aren’t positive to what. Artwork is the cracking and the opening directly. Ornitheology, with spare lyricism and sensory exactitude, broods over us, bores into us. We crack. We open.

All this time, making a nest within this guide and alluring you to climb inside it, the word-bird has continued flapping its wings: ges-talt, ges-talt. Is it my creativeness, or has the message grow to be extra pressing, the wings extra insistent? So I open the good birding e-book of the Web and sort “gestalt greater than sum of parts,” solely to seek out that the psychologist Kurt Koffka who’s credited with this phrase didn’t say larger. Actually, he corrected any scholar who interpreted gestaltism as a “principle of addition”—any entire turning into greater than its particular person items. Koffka maintained the gestalt was non-hierarchical. Any entity or expertise, which should embrace a murals, which should embrace a ebook of poems, could be parsed into constituent parts, however when built-in, the entire generates an expertise separate from these elements—not higher than in any respect, however unbiased of them, sui generis.

Which is to say: I’m so taken with this e-book that I’ve taken items of it to point out you the uncooked materials from which it’s made. It’s a research of birds and a research of God braided collectively such that we’re capable of research, by which I imply witness, extraordinary moments like this:

_______________A hummingbird lands
on the boy’s decrease lip, picks out and eats
the sesame seed lodged between his entrance tooth.

Literal? Symbolic? Gospel? Prayer? In my studying, Ornitheology seems to be a ebook of psalms.

You’ll have to learn it for your self, although, understanding our experiences of the challenge will probably be concentric circles at greatest, eccentric circles at…different greatest? totally different greatest? There isn’t a hierarchy in these gestalts, keep in mind. For now, let me depart you with my favourite second in McClellan’s challenge:

On the brown carpet, an envelope
______________________of mild.

Eight phrases, 4 on both sides of a comma. We apprehend the symmetry intellectually, however what we see first is an precise envelope—is yours modern, horizontal, and white? Or maybe a tall, manilla one, licked and clasped? We begin to put a narrative in place, virtually instantly, virtually unconsciously, however what we think about is totally different. Perhaps the envelope has dropped by means of a mail slot. Are you able to make out handwriting, a printed label, a stamp? Or perhaps somebody was on their strategy to the publish workplace and dropped an envelope they meant to mail? Once you see an envelope, do you all the time think about a letter inside? Or one thing else—? Or else—?

However then in fact, the road enjambs. Our eyes flip the nook, traverse the white area—virtually immediately, however not fairly—and we’re there on the sudden prepositional phrase: of sunshine. It’s not an precise envelope in any respect, however a method of characterizing the sunshine that is available in by way of a window or radiates out from a lamp, making a shiny form on the ground. (Nota bene: gestalt, it seems, means form.) The literal cracks open into the metaphor, one other form the evolving which means can take.

Maybe you, like me, are nonetheless inclined to succeed in out for the envelope made of sunshine? It’s so engaging, so seemingly shut at hand. That feeling of irresistibility, of the engaging close-at-hand, is that this e-book—and this picture that comes closest to explaining my expertise of studying it:

You attain for the envelope. Whenever you open it, the contents envelop and obtain you want a nest—assembled from fragments of the bodily world, hewn with a language as distinctive as it’s common. Amongst different issues, you end up inside.

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