(Omnidawn Publishing, 2011) 

Aerial, Bin Ramke’s eleventh book of poems, oscillates between boundaries and boundlessness (life and death, fear and joy) in and around water, air, and light, his long-time loves. In the middle of the poem “Imago,” this persistent dialecticof the tight and the looseis lovely in its delicate tension:                                          

 

                                                  —oh, a small 

                        creature (ladybug) lyric within her 

                        exoskeleton, a shape of self watery 

                        dewy it is early 

 

                        in the day her color close to 

                        the color of poppy, the two dots of wing 

                        coverings (there is a name for) 

                        a summer symmetry, tenderly elytra 

 

                        let a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, 

                        and rest under a tree . . .

 

There are numerous hallmarks, here, of Ramke’s style: the lyric cry; a love of shells and universal liquidations; ragged-watery phrasing and syntax (e.g., “watery / dewy it is early”);; simultaneous reliance on the strata of left-justified lines; humbly bold observations; learned vocabulary (“elytra”); a clear act of voicing; exquisite eccentricity; subtly dreamy rhyming (here first centered on the l’s, then the c’s and o’s and hums, then on short and long e); and last, sudden turns ( “let a little water be fetched”)jumps that are neither juxtapositions nor disjunctions; they are just what they are, not rule-bound. In sum, then, Ramke practices control at the edge of wildness. (About all that’s missing from the lines is his liking for “wild epigraphy”). An even shorter introduction to his delightfully singular sensibility, to his gentle tatterings, can be found in “Sad Parade,” a poem two books back in Airs, Waters, Places, where a “languishing self,” torn by “ambition versus responsibility,” is a “cloud tattering / its own edges into oblivion. Sweetly.” On the page, Ramke is a paradox of assertive originality and mature resignation. He dares to drift; he asserts the privilege: follow, reader. At the same time, or interleaved, there is a practice of wise utterance ("there is a shape and shape is destiny when distant”this from “Nephelomancy”). He manages to write a good deal about himself without, shucks, putting himself forward. Reading him, one picks up on an almost neutering feeling about life, almond not cinnamon, where, if “every touch is a modified blow”(his quotation from Crawley), it's quite modified: no theatrics. Similarly, many ideas enter Ramke’s mind, but none violate it. His thinking is as quiet as a snowfall. Often antiquarian in his reading, and learnéd, courteously naming off to the right the authors of the frequent quotations, his work is open, rather than fearfully alive with its own fortune. It has to make up in idiosyncracy and reflection for what it lacks in emotional tension, conceptual development, and cinched form. Although leaving the dynamic model of the poem sitting like a broken-down machine at the side of the road, the poems are happy—happy enough—to be on foot. Of course: anyone would be happy to be in Ramke’s wonderfully sensitive poetic feet. But of the two chief ingredients of literature, happiness and sadness (as Aristotle pointed out with excellent simplicity), the latter prevails. Aerial is, and endeavors not to be, a book of mourning. Mourning is the denser air in the wild air of its circulations, where there is no kind of boundarybut, this last being so, “what is / the difference between this air and that?” (“Fair Weather Cumulus”). A dying mother bleeds into matter, matter into mother, childhood into adulthood, adulthood into childhoodall of which creates a confusion that is hard to bear and “a self particulate, drifting // like ice the elegant feel of it falling / into itself”; “elegant” but fundamentally foundationless. Ramke floats in the still, unhoping waters of reflection. Even so, he has been wooed by the fierce goddess of sensation, her shape mimicking leaves, her quick movement bringing cold wind, her bright eye snow (“Continuous Computation”). And so, despite its respectful, trembling consideration of all things, not least science, mathematics, and geometry; despite a voice that is “mind / departing continually . . . a long / death in its way”; despite its often abstract, denotative diction, Aerial knows the cost of intense feeling and wanting: “She makes her way in this world. She cuts / her own hands away at the wrists, softly” ("Erasure’s Sure Era”). Again, from “At Henri Michaux’s”:  

 

                                      Earth. I live here.

              I am abstract. Outrageous.

              I cry and cringe. Tiger and Toy. Child.

 

What a poet! 

                                                                                                                             

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