cover image Partially Kept

Partially Kept

Martha Ronk. Nightboat (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-937658-01-4

Ronk (Vertigo) is a well-kept secret in the contemporary experimental poetry scene; her work deserves greater attention. Her ninth collection of poems is composed of three sequences of short lyrics that attend to the elusiveness of language and humanity’s shifting sense of the past. The poems of the title sequence quote sentences from Sir Thomas Browne, 17th-century essayist and plant lover, weaving his language in with Ronk’s to meditate on the fragility of life and the ways ideas—especially ideas about faith versus science—get lost in translation through time: “While he saith, with incredible Artifice hath Nature framed// where by the way we cannot but wish we might examine// all things observable by land and sea.” The more conversational poems of the second sequence, “No Sky,” contemplate the thin line between the natural and man-made worlds: “She holds the phone to the air so I can hear the geese flying overhead.” The final section, “August,” shows Ronk at her best, letting her open-ended phrases elegize the passage of the world she observes: “It was long ago and I admire now the afternoon,// the outing that had been planned,// the light on the water that might have come.” This is a beautiful and philosophical book. (Apr.)