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Ksana by John Martone

Jeffery Beam

Ksana: Collected Poems 2005-2009.
John Martone.
Red Moon Press, 2009.
208 pages, $12 (paperback).
ISBN: 9781893959842.

Martone's poems are best known for appearing in small limited handmade collections, oftentimes published by the author, and here Red Moon has done us the favor of gathering 20 of these into a collected poems. There's always been something delightfully intimate and fresh about the limited editions, but this gives new readers a representative collection of Martone's deftness with image and language within a startling brevity. He's strung the poems together many on a page, so that in a strange way it seems that the poems in each of the chapbooks form a longer poem—they converse and resonate with each other.

It's impossible without an image to give you the experience of these four poems on the page each about a pebble—the first one word to a line left justified, the next one word to a line stepping lightly down past the previous word, the last two solid but short couplets; this / pebble's / my / rounded / bowl, this / peb / ble / once / held, roll this / fossil // pebble / in palm // yes / a good / fit, had a / micro / scope // cld read / picto / graphs // on this / pebble's / cliff. Each poem clearly stands alone—and did in the chapbook's original form, but now the poems form a coherent sequence too. Martone is a poet of Buddhist light, a poet whose vision walks with a microscope into Nature's variety. He doesn't invade (all this shade erases me); he looks and hears and feels the presences of Nature's manifestations: that white pine / w its riddle / every time.

Although embraced by the haiku community, Martone writes on the edge or outside of it, perhaps loosely related to the contemporary Gendai movement which seeks to stretch the meanings and forms and styles of contemporary haiku. Martone's relation perhaps is as a scout to such a revolution. Some of the poems reside gently in the haiku image tradition, although they seldom fit the form perfectly: eating peas off the vine / & watching / chimney swifts. But some are fetching conceptual poems—a poem for Robert Lax repeats the word goethe in lower case in three triplets and closing with one singular goethe, a poem Lax would be proud of. Martone stretches the form of minimalist poetry by reducing it. Some poems only have one letter to a line, many have one word to a line, and there are numerous one-liners.

A ksana is an inconceivably short mind moment, an instantaneous point, the mythic "twinkling of an eye." It is also "every moment." A gold statue of the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva graces the cover of this book. His name translates into "Earth Treasury," "Earth Store," "Earth Matrix," or "Earth Womb." It's an appropriate image for this beautiful and always quietly engaging earth-centered book, a book in which the whole woods / asleep / frog makes its presence known. As Martone invites us: you watch the stream & hear a heart door open.

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