The Weather & Our Tempers

Dominique Townsend. Brooklyn Arts (SPD, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-936767-11-3
Caution and charity, travel and sensitivity, in sites South Asian, American, and European, control the humane tones and the short-lined free verse of this debut, which also reflects its author's other work as a scholar of Buddhism.  Compressing nostalgia into useful advice, melancholy into aphorism, always aware that "what we are/ will change," Townsend (who teaches at Barnard College in New York) can look back into her own life, but also far beyond it, into lives unlike hers, despite the spare texture and the low word count in so many poems. One ends "it happened like this/ on the back end of summer/ somebody's birthday" (each day, after all, is somebody's birthday). Another, entitled "ambition was a bad word," imagines a metaphysical "state of being outside// like sleeping in the backyard week/ nights in the crisp decay of fall." Her mix of impressions with concise meditations often recalls the later style of W. S. Merwin, especially when (like him) she eschews punctuation.  Townsend's drifting sadness, interrupted by points of local description, can speak to many places and several generations: "in childhood/ nothing/ is fair… we misunderstood is all/ & the frame was all/ wrong or even gone."  Yet these general conclusions emerge from particulars of cities, and of polyglot learning; those lines, for example, stand out from within the poem "neti neti," named for a South Asian concept of mystic negation (translation: "not this, not this"). Concise and welcoming, yet intricately tied to place and religion, this quiet debut could take off. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/2013
Release date: 03/01/2014
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