Joseph Harrington’s collection Of Some Sky is a highly organized mess, and he wants you to know it. In its first poem, “Earth Day Suite,” schoolchildren stage a play that describes the onset of the Anthropocene, serving as a wonderful introduction to Harrington’s vibrant and chaotic world in the poems that follow.
How doth the cold war never stop the corn genetic junkyard
where it never springs,
flower-hoovered tanks in Prague, Father Jesse cryin ‘cause
he shouldn’t cut off his nuts,
or all the ponzis and the panzers we forgot? Aw, chill,
America: behold thy little kings.
Even though Harrington already published “Earth Day Suite” separately as a chapbook, the collection is remarkably coherent, not merely a collection of poems over a span of years. Harrington clearly writes about central themes and with specific techniques in mind. Its organization into three sections follows a clear pattern: a long poem of at least 10-15 pages followed by page-length prose and a handful of shorter poems. The effect is remarkable, lulling the reader with widely spaced and leisurely passages before snapping them back into a dense page entirely filled with words and rapid-fire associations. This method of pacing carefully guides the reader without ever losing the collection’s sense of tension or mystery.
Speaking of live action footage of talking animals’ kooky, wetdream, rapidshare, cute little box social cupcake babies were the phrases “Wheeeee-doggies!” and “Let us all lip-synchronize in advocacy for animated animals, brothers and sisters, before the comet comes to pick us up.”
It’s a good thing that Joseph Harrington can communicate so well through organization and arrangement, because he wrote most of the poems to displace, discombobulate, and uproot the reader. Looney Tunes characters figure prominently, mixed up with King Kong, a major environmentalist, and readings of Foucault (“The History of Sexuality” and “The Archaeology of Knowledge” make an appearance in the titles of some more explicitly political poems). The lines themselves are rife with contradiction, enjambing entirely different sentences and bringing together some truly wild images to confuse the page as a reflection of the confusion of culture, politics, and environment. Although the collection provides a helpful structure, Harrington’s poems are not entirely legible. They create a marvelous effect, but they aren’t exactly easy on the reader: our politics, our environment, the whole world isn’t easy on us. The quote that christens the volume is from William Carlos Williams, and refers to the whole work as the excrement “of some sky.” It’s up to the reader to determine if that’s what they’re after, if that will excite them or not.
did you say liquidity or lividity? rhyme,
quiddity, or clomp? Me, I make the poem
modular so any part can be eliminated
without anyone noticing it gone
Most of the quotes on the back of Harrington’s collection mention that “Of Some Sky” is supposed to be a collection of nature poems. In some sense, this is true, and it’s always helpful to categorize a collection, but it goes without saying that Harrington’s work is a far cry from whatever a reader might think of as a traditional nature poem. Most readers think of nature poetry as a highly formal exercise that aligns the beauty of form with the beauty that an observer beholds in nature, but Harrington takes entirely the opposite perspective, embedded deeply in the chaos and formlessness of nature. For Harrington, the boundaries come undone and the relationship between disaster, technology, people, places, and ecology feels suddenly clear and even intimate. Harrington is at his best when anime characters, foul language, strange exclamations, and the grainy loops of a low-res GIF collection meet on the page. It’s hard to say whether Harrington writes about the sky, but certainly writes from the sky, and will enrich the sort of reader who craves just that sort of heavenly transport.
Brett Belcastro is a writer and community organizer living in Western Massachusetts. His writing has appeared in Cobalt, AMRI, and the Platform Review.