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Sprung Rhythms of the Heart By Geoffrey Rips WHOMP AND MOONSHIVER By Thomas Whitbread Brockport, New York: BOA Editions, Ltd. 1982. 71 pp. $5.00 Austin WHAT WE HAVE here is the genuine article a poet. No qualifiers. Not a regional poet, though his writing is grounded in the bedrock from which it sprang. Not a Texas poet, though Texas is as much with him as with those SuperTexans who round up dogies in all kinds of corrals, mistaking formlessness for freedom, who bleed the landscape dry with their nativisms, who depend on a parochial ignorance for their place in the state’s versifiers The difference here is the craft and the breadth of vision and the sound. To jump right in: Look at the title poem. It’s Gerard Manley Hopkins washed up on our shores. Whomp and moonshiver of salt surf on sand, Beer cans, rock, seawall: Galveston night vision Anyseawhere hearand seeable, incision Cut into land, incessant dentist’s hand At drill, letless force, without countermand Order thump order order thump intermission Thump order thump thump thump order No Permission For surfers Danger Deep Holes yet all how grand. . . . Is this Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland”? No. It’s the seawall at Galveston and the flotsam is made up of the things of this world. And the things of this world are insistent, insisting upon order: “thump order order thump” an order that is elemental, broken down against the seawall. It is an order that, finally, is only heard, that insists with the sonnet’s insistence, that is known only in the sprung rhythms of the Surf and the heart. Hopkins called it “inscape” the unique intrinsic pattern of objects and experience. Witness “The Best Place to Read Carlyle.” It is an order that is personal but exact: Its on a plank dock on Lake Webb in Maine, Near Weld. You sit there in your trunks, in sun, Reading Thomas in a 1700-thin-page Anthology by Oxford, and when anything Strikes you, you pencil in the margin, “Crux.” .. . And if the order is understood and respected, then life can be lived with some degree of pleasure. In the poem “Pochet Island,” the poet begins as the outsider in a foursome. But the order of things is observed. The outsider volunteers to row ashore for more whiskey. Whitbread’s Whomp and Moonshiver is published by BOA Editions, one of the several smaller publishers who have sustained good poetry in the wake of its virtual abandonment by most large publishing houses in favor of more profitable fare. It was nine o’clock and raining. Therefore I Volunteered, announced, insisted I would go Provide. They got me into a sticky old Two-piece rubber cement rainsuit, told me not To go, gave me a flashlight, and I went. Time was both fast and slow at once. I lost An oar in the middle of the bay, said no To panic, and with light and paddling found It again. No trouble in returning. . . . Next day .. . I walked out in the rain-drenched grass down through Rain-bearing bushes to the bay, and stood Against a fresh gale, which made anything Feel right. When I walked up and back, we were Four friends. Such happenings give worth to life. It is the poet’s task to understand the order of the world and our place in it, even if that understanding is simply a realization of our own ignorance. “But what of the sense that the complexity /Of what we do not know, and what we love/ And still do not much know, will baffle us?” Whitbread asks in “Question.” “Yet of each no, a yes,” he declares. “Yes, Stevens, yes!” he adds to what must be a continual inner dialogue with poet Wallace Stevens, also concerned with the order of things and with the mind’s mastery of that order. If from each no, a yes, then from ignorance and despair, understanding. In the poem “Post Card from Esna, Egypt,” Whitbread comes to terms with the unresolved circumstances of a friend’s death, with his last postcard from that friend, saying, “No news from you, /A silence which has saddened me of late,” with the eternal silence that has come between them. He comes to terms with this death not by penetrating its silence but by understanding its place in the order of things. It becomes, what Stevens calls, “the rock [that] is the gray particular of man’s life.” In “Pearl Harbor, 1976: An Agony Against Suicide,” Whitbread tries to use his understanding of his own ignorance to affirm life. Out of desperate non-knowledge of what to do I raise the dusty lid from the dusty keys Of my upright piano, and play the first Movement of a Beethoven sonata .. . To help keep a friend from committing suicide Out of a sense he has nothing to give others, He likes fine music. . . . So, now, playing Out of a desperate non-knowldege what to do To save a life, I celebrate those dead Through any agency other than their own . . . Better Keep going, die only unavoidably, try Against time’s foul cigar-smoked tooth-tear, than Out of desperate non-knowldege what to do To kill yourself. . . . In coming to terms with the order of things, Whitbread comes to terms with himself. In “Beside the Sea, Ignorant [the forces of nature are mindless and impenetrable] 22 FEBRUARY 24, 1984