The Lost Sea by Keith Flynn
Perhaps it was the sinuous tails of René Magritte's candles crawling along the shoreline illustrated on its cover that drew me in, but the poems made me stay. It was snowing when I read The Lost Sea, Keith Flynn's third book of poems, and as I recall, it was near twenty degrees here in my little mountain home. A perfect day, I thought, to endure a different type of accumulation—snowy excerpts from Keith Flynn's mind. A good decision, I can report.
Thematically, The Lost Sea reaches far and wide, from the history and myth of the West, to our intriguing post-modern culture, to the poet's own personal, contemplative reflections. To match the wide range of themes, there are also a variety of poetic forms presented—dramatic monologues, lyrics, and narratives. Flynn tries his hand at experimental form, too, and when he does, it pays off, particularly with the cycle of poems called "The Fatigue of Post-Modern Irony."
"Waco Ruby Ridge Oklahoma" is a poem from the "Fatigue" cycle that reveals how our society increasingly views art not as a cultural poison but as a benign nuisance. The result? A static deadness. Flynn writes: "This poem / is more harmless / than Dioxin / and will spend / less time in the heart," while the speaker's mother chimes in, asking why he "leave[s] out / all the / happy parts." That's the irony, isn't it? The "happy" parts lose their meaning when they're repackaged as Visa advertisements. Finally, Flynn observes that "we are / a bulky / people / hard to move"—an apt physical image of the "static deadness" don't you think?
In a style at once challenging and original, Flynn strategically positions metaphors to strike us at our most vulnerable moments—when we wish to stop reading and intellectually analyze the text. At first reading, some of these poems may induce disorientation, the metaphors often interrupting a poem's narrative, but soon one grasps the flavor of the structure. Clearly a child of the great early Moderns—Eliot, Pound, Yeats—Flynn's poetic style is not exactly Imagistic, though there are nods and tastes of it in nearly every poem. Rather his work is, to my mind, filmic or cinematic. He understands the power of juxtaposition, which makes his metaphors spin like small planets, causing the microcosm of the poem to hold itself together. Read the first stanza of "The Pink River Dolphins of Peru," a poem not so much about dolphins as about human music and myth-making:
The pink river dolphins of Peru
are more myth now than reality
but some still exist,
radishes of petrified laughter,
ashes in the river roots
shocked into music.
Whatever is not stone is light,
like the pythia said, preaching
in the troubled body's lost horizon.
Music is a blouse on the moon,
unzipping her shadow
and stepping out into blossom.
Note how, at the end of the stanza, the finely tuned metaphor for music bursts open like the early bud of a white iris. Surprising. Pleasing. The stanza just quoted represents Flynn's style perfectly. The first three lines set the stage, the next three cast a few baiting metaphors, the next three lines are commentary (I especially like the quotable, beautiful line: "Whatever is not stone is light") and finally the last three lines, a precise metaphor, poetically (not narratively) unifies the entire stanza. Many of Flynn's poems move us—sometimes fluidly, sometimes joltingly—from intellect to emotion.
The fourth and final section of the book, "Still Life with Delirium," moves into the poet's personal life, which for me makes all his political/cultural observation more immediately effective and potent. In fact, I'd say that the entire book is worth buying simply for these beautiful and poignant poems. I'll not spoil all the fun by quoting endlessly; quoting two lines from a poem called "Critical Mass" sums up this small collection of poems: "In all crisis, opportunity. / In all bedlam, beauty." Enough said.
The Lost Sea earns its right to sit on any poetry shelf; it offers a host of well-tuned, delicately constructed poems that stand and sing with each return visit. The poet's attention to structure—of individual poems and of the book entire—makes the collection reel with energy, challenging us to a more poetic way of thinking and living.