In Narrow Cradle, Wade Kearley explores the midlife encounter with mortality and the ways we strive to resist, deny, cheat, and even bargain with it. Grounded in both traditional and modern poetic forms, these poems find in the transience of life a new kind of freedom, a rebirth independent of personal circumstance. In crisp, direct, and vivid language—swerving between sonnet, villanelle, and sestina—Kearley offers a compelling collection by turns vicious, lost, ragged, and regal.
A poet, midlife, exploring mortality. How original, I thought reflexively. Until depleted patience began its cyclical replenishment, a fresh flood-tide, and I found myself not only curious but keen to know what author Wade Kearley has to offer in Narrow Cradle, his new book of poems.Reading Kearley’s work not only quashed reviewer’s fatigue but surprised me in the intensity of its revitalization. Laid out calendrically, we join the author for what appears to be a year but represents much more, an accumulation of lives. Together we lose, tragically, heal and persevere. These are by no means simply musings of an ageing poet. This is the raw, real beauty, fraying and resiliency in each of us. Leaving me again inspired by the written word.
Steven Page wrote a song, It’s All Been Done, a synopsis, perhaps, of the entire creative process. Naturally, I wrote a song just like it, disguised sufficiently to sound unique while remaining comfortably familiar. Each iteration, like those before and after, came with a self-important dollop of arrogant-clever youth. And yet. By not opening oneself to artistic perspective we run the risk of missing gem-quality glints amidst the ore. From Kearley’s prayer rock:
I ponder the rock on my work table and when thoughts / intrude I sometimes take its rough geometry in my / hand, marvel at embedded gems and the precision of the / journey that brought us here from the universe before / the universe that started with a bang.
There’s natural beauty in Narrow Cradle. Literally. Ornithological admiration in design, blending agreeable familiarity with freshness. Something Page and the rest of us can relate to, the flight of birds a transience with the reassuring circularity of seasons and tides.
Moving through months we find ourselves in snowfall, volumes accumulating in concise haiku with flurries:
in your frigid gaze / each breath becomes a snowstorm / over the mountain
And with each month an opening sonnet, perched like poetic prose nests, our birder-guide putting us at ease while we settle into hides. From April on Lawlor’s Brook, our introduction:
This spring a dozen double-crested cormorants / Pitched on the river gabions and left / White fecal trails on the black sediment. / They vied for the widest shelf to nest. / They courted there for weeks but never spoke, / Never made a sound, never roused me. / Silently left the brook for the Atlantic, / An ocean wide with possibility.
From a Newfoundland home, I can imagine possibility in Atlantic presence, onshore gusts of Heaney we find aswirl in Kearley’s calendar. With a new month torn from the pad, something overlooked is found. From cold case (In memory of B.F.):
A schoolboy chasing his soccer ball found the body / in the woods behind the mental hospital. Half buried, cold, / fetal, failed by a world that could never just let you pass.
Unable to just let pass. Comprehensive commonality. I find myself missing a person I never knew. But of course, B.F. is known to us all.
I could thank Wade Kearley for the shot of poetic adrenaline that is Narrow Cradle, vanquishing my ennui. I suppose I have. Whether you’re new to the genre or a veteran, read this work. It will be time and emotion well spent. These stories are ours, shared by a highly-skilled storyteller. Perhaps it’s all been done. But as tides turn and birds return, you can be wondrously surprised by the beauty and flight of each one.
Narrow Cradle is added to the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards under the Best Poetry category.
About the Author: Wade Kearley is the author of seven books, including the poetry collections Drawing on Water and Let Me Burn like This, and the travel books The People’s Road and The People’s Road Revisited, based on his 900-kilometre trek along Newfoundland’s abandoned rail line. He lives in St. John’s.
About the Reviewer: Author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Allan’s Wishes, Dromomania, and Wonderful Magical Words. His work is published in magazines, literary journals and anthologies around the globe. Bill makes his home, most often, on Canada’s west coast. @billarnott_aps https://www.amazon.com/author/billarnott_aps
Narrow Cradle by Wade Kearley
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