Author Denise Low Reviews Estuaries
A Review of Estuaries: Poems by Jason Kirkey with photography by James Liter
Review by: Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007–2009. Author of: Words of a Prairie Alchemist and Thailand Journal
Poet Jason Kirkey teams with photographer James Liter to create a meditation on river landscapes in Estuaries: Poems (Hiraeth Press, 2011). This accessible book has many moments of genuine transcendence. Kirkey opens the poem “Ravens through Cedar Trees” with the arresting description: “Three ravens flying through cedar trees/ carry the morning on their back.” This is particular and universal at once—just at the edge of parable. He continues with this arresting imagery: “The sound of their beating wings—Broad enough to write a sacred text / And deep enough for silence” These focused views, parallel to the photographer’s lens, gives visual and sound dimensions to the suspended moment. “The Riverway” also uses sounds effectively—“The sound of the Riverway / through the water-mind, curves/ riparian— rushes and willow shoots.” The repetition of “R” and “SH” sounds mimic the river’s natural sounds.
Selfless meditation informs the verse—focus is on the observation, not the observer. The poet describes connections between nature and consciousness in direct, descriptive terms—without cleverness nor games that return the gaze to the poet. The last section, “No Nature,” confirms the underlying alignment with Buddhist principles. The poem “Buddhing” ends with the idea of sidestepping the business of poetry to offer it, instead, back to nature: “still not writing it down, but shouting / our best poetry dissolving in the sky.” Kirkey is at his best when he lets images carry the poems, like here, when the poem returns human actions to context of nature in the form of the sky. The guiding metaphor of the book, estuaries—a place of mingling salt and fresh water—is expressed here as the mingling of human nature and non-human nature.
James Liter’s photographs are amazing. Breathtaking. Stunning. He is a master of light, mist, water spray, colors, and composition. No person appears in any of them, yet each has a narrative. Each is intimate and dramatic. The text and images tandem to create a volume that offers a spiritual retreat in the form of book-meditation.