Chapter 16
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Calling for a Hearing

Darnell Arnoult’s latest poetry collection tackles the cosmos

Darnell Arnoult, who was writer-in-residence at Lincoln Memorial University for a decade, has established a reputation as a distinctly Southern writer through two poetry collections, Galaxie Wagon and What Travels with Us, as well as the novel Sufficient Grace. Her latest book of poems, Incantations, continues to explore a love and fire for not only the South but life itself and our continued place in the universe.

Divided into six sections, Incantations is aptly named, as the collection oscillates between specific images of earthly creatures and individuals and a massive contemplation of the universe and its creators. For example, “Love Fever” hones in on “Courtly drunkards” who “disappear, respectful and smiling, // up inadequate staircases.” In contrast, “This Too Is Creation” describes how “God’s uncanny procedure in His hysterical solitude / is to night-bomb the mysterious void.”

The first section, titled “Knowing,” opens with an ethereal image: “River breathes your / water’s dark body. / Wild premonitions.” The description of “your … body” as “dark” and made of water sets the stage for the continued paradoxical imaginings of a human-like being taking on cosmic proportions and emotions. Woven throughout many of the collection’s poems, however, is a tone of excitement, a vibrating, fire-breathed desire for every aspect of life. “Beneath Love” describes love as a “crazy room” where one must “Believe in Death. Believe in Love.” It is a place where “There is no wrong room. / No wrong problem. No wrong place.”

The poems in Incantations are varied, from the 5-line “Legend” to the 13-stanza “Misdirection.” Most have a short, one- or two-word title, which doesn’t reveal much about the content of the poem, forcing the reader to dive in and unearth its meaning, much like we are forced to dive blindly into life. Unlike Arnoult’s previous collections, Incantations does not offer many poems with character-centered stories, instead exploring more intangible concepts. One example of this is in the poem “Morning,” which personifies glory: “Glory strides up the side of the road” and “Glory talks in a hard language.”

Arnoult tackles the large, difficult questions in “Struggle,” asking,

What comes of a static battle of breath and voice
and bearing in a room in a house plagued

by rumbling times and growing reach of men?
Earth fades in tears and heat while we play on,

lying to our children and our planet, and ourselves
the grinding cancer we cannot face or kill or hold off.

The visceral description of life as a “grinding cancer we cannot face or kill” sets a morbid, defeated tone; however, other poems challenge this morbidity within themselves. “Reincarnation,” for example, which the title of the collection may be summoning with its Incantations, pairs a difficult question with a declaration of hope:

The breast of violence drowns
in a tangle of generations still

treading useless kingdoms.
The enormous feathered breast
of trust reincarnates the world.

A “breast of violence” competing against a “breast / of trust” conveys the paradoxical feeling of a phoenix rising from its own ashes, the very act of destruction creating the reincarnation of a new being. The collection’s cover illustration, designed by Madville Publishing’s founder Kim Davis, expresses this contrast in its depiction of a fantastical figure’s heart being reincarnated by fire into star-like aviators, simultaneous agents of the Earth and the cosmos, just as the figure itself is simultaneously a human being and a bird-like creature. These paradoxes, or seeming contradictions, vividly express the complexity and nuances of Incantations.

Calling for a Hearing

Abby N. Lewis is from Dandridge, Tennessee. She is the author of the poetry collection Reticent, the chapbook This Fluid Journey, and the newest chapbook Palm Up, Fingers Curled from Plan B Press.