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Book Reviews

Atmospheric Disturbances
Our Keen Blue House

Contributor's Notes


Book Review: Our Keen Blue House by Michael Trammell

David Svenson

Yellowjacket Press

Chapbook, 21pp.

What does it mean to be a nature poet? Is nature poetry a romantic discourse on all that is right and beautiful? Does the moniker signal a poet’s focus on place and description? In the 21st century it’s difficult for a poet to limit their writing to a secluded prairie or forest without the hum of a highway being at least a part of the experience. Nature now includes man and the man-made. Michael Trammell writes poetry on the verge of what some Floridians would call development; others would call it the metastasis of urban sprawl. His recent chapbook, Our Keen Blue House, winner of the Fourth Annual YellowJacket Press Chapbook Contest for Florida Poets, establishes him as a writer on the plight of space: space to live, raise children, and enjoy nature. Some of these poems are elegies for the portion lost to suburban planning; others reflect a mature understanding that the nature that surrounds us is also a part of us.

Collectively the poems offer a glimpse into the life of one family on land once owned by another, the Keens. We are introduced to the current family in the poem “Tornado of Birds,” as they observe the tenacious determinism of nature’s life cycle. Birds peck at one another while others continue their feast on the dead.

I looked over their heads and saw the birds–at that instant there must have been hundreds– flying their ferocity against the fly-filled fur of a dead stray cat. A jay-bird swooped overhead and hammered three times at a thin shell of ear. The web of wings spun a thick cylinder from ground to treetops.

The image foreshadows the poems to come, in which we read of the encroachment of nature into our lives and the response of humans to nature. The poem begs the question: are we so different, so separated from the nature around us? The birds, picking apart what has unwittingly entered their land, signal a tumultuous, questioning era in the life of the poems’ speaker.

We all felt the wind of it catch us, pull us upward, sweep at our heels, a constant kicking, a pecking at the gut and nerves, a swirling vacuum, a glimpse of what we would not forget of our three years living a dare to tangle lives within the spinning house of our tumults and our joys.

The poems “The Barn” and “Pit” present an experience with nature lost and regained. The “ghosts / of horses” brushing against a car in “The Barn” could be from anywhere, any state. In these ghosts, who possess “the hollow / teeth of a hungry skull,” the speaker recognizes the symbol of a specific loss of nature. The poem hopes to revise a disconnect between humans and nature, as the speaker can “think / of nothing but to offer my wine.” “Pit” continues to suggest the meekness of humanity, offering an experience of nature rebounding as it rededicates itself to the family’s property.

But the land remembered, grabbing earth we’d scorched with our all night fire, breathing wild purple flowers, a low cold blaze of dawn sky rooted and growing in the ground.

Whether or not we are aware of it, Florida is a thriving landscape. It may appear to us as the invasive Australian pine and Brazilian peppertree, or as the more appreciated mammoth live oaks of the northern section of the state and skyward palms of South Beach. But Trammel reminds us that dangers lurk in the scenery as well. In his poem “The Club House,” he reflects on the thin line by which we live in Florida. The shack off in the woods, where kids once met as a club with rules endorsing beer and sex, encroaches on that line. After the speaker lets his son, who’s begged to play there, into the shack, he sees the “long, black, / twitch” of a snake. Without alerting his son to the danger, he lifts him out.

But what is the aim? It is the hope of the Florida poet to associate our lives with modesty to nature: a dwindling resource that a resident of any state must come to respect; a place outside of our condos and cars where we feel a connection to a more primal state, remembering love, family and nature. Trammell reminds us of this with the final lines of the closing poem, “Taking it Back”:

still standing amongst all that’s warped and broken, and you put both hands around it, as if hugging all those days, that other life, and then you bend it softly at the root, pull it up, and lug it back to your new home.

And that’s what Trammell does. He gathers the human experience in a book of compassion for the growth of what’s inside our homes and what’s outside. Our Keen Blue House is indeed a meaningful read for anyone in the city or countryside, Florida and beyond.