darkacre by Greg Hewett Coffee House Press, 2010
Review by Tristan Beach
There is much to love in Greg Hewett's esoteric, yet highly emotive poetry collection, darkacre (Coffee House Press, 2010), a Lambda Award-finalist. The poet forges meticulously structured verses that resemble both visually and thematically landscapes, cities, outliers, and residential developments. Aware of his choice of form, Hewett often alludes to the confines of space (keeping with the above physical imagery) and the limits of one's ownership over the body, the soul, the mind. darkacre is composed of several short poetic sequences, divvied up into sections within the book. The first section, the eponymously titled, “darkacre,” portrays in at times highly formalized legal jargon, the physical limitations of “darkacre,” or one's own identity, and the conferring of “darkacre” (as inheritance) to others:
dominion granted over darkacre in perpetuity measured from the northeast corner of the deconsecrated church past memory to the ancient oak somehow immune from hewing at the northwest [. . .] dominion granted in perpetuity for as long as a fertile octogenarian can pass it on
Following this poem, “darkacre” is conferred to “whiteacre”: “darkacre conveys deed to whiteacre / at the boundary where snow falls / (or is it petals? ash?) slowly down.” The next several poems depict darkacre passing on rights and privileges to other “-acres”, including “grayacre”, “redacre”, “greenacre”, and the like. Each “-acre” owns a respective poem in the sequence. Each poem frequently demonstrates a poetic style highly invested in the intricacies of language, ever pushing the boundaries of thought. The jargon is intermixed with extremely evocative language and physical descriptions. Comparing one's identity, which Hewett suggests is composed of innumerable elements including memory and socioeconomic history (the very idea of ownership conjures these up), to property rights is a very intriguing approach to something so intuitive, so intangible. These poems don't feel confined in space (especially given the lack of punctuation), rather they convey an ethereal sense, a fluidity that keeps each verse engaging for the reader despite the visual confinements and strict ordering of words.
The age-old struggle between order and chaos is portrayed through several other sequences in the book, including “Under Auspices” and “The Structure of Crisis.” “Under Auspices” begins with the poem “Tornado Edifice”: “It's the order of things. / Steel cables fray then snap, / Concrete caves in and I-beams collapse.” The poem, composed in loose, frequently slant-rhymed tercets, is particularly striking both for the liberties Hewett takes with his poetic form and for his sweeping language: “Arcs of desire routinely crumble.” In “Tornado Edifice”, as in the other two poems in this sequence, the future is conceptual, and prone to being chaotic, thus humanity is obsessed with predictions, providing an order to this chaos. There is nothing more frightening than the unknown. Hence the title “Under Auspices.” However, each poem works so well, which begs the question, can't order and chaos exist in tandem? Perhaps only on the page. Perhaps otherwise.
There are several other poems in this collection that impress and linger. Too many to mention here outright. Yet despite Hewett's success, darkacre might strike some readers as being frigid; Hewett's idiosyncratic mix of jargon (minimal in the second half of the book) and his at times roundabout way of conveying emotion and thus maintaining a connection to his readers, may put some off at the outset. As the book progresses, the emotional weight of his poems grows heavier. darkacre requires multiple readings, and perhaps some deep inquiry into what he's actually saying. For those who commit to this book, they'll certainly be rewarded in the end.
Greg Hewett is the author of four books of poetry, most recently darkacre (Coffee House Press 2010). He has received Fulbright fellowships to Denmark and Norway and is currently Associate Professor of English at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
Tristan Beach is an associate editor for The Conium Review. He received his BA in English from Saint Martin's University, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. His poetry has appeared in The Pitkin Review; his book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in The Conium Review and Cutbank. You can follow him on his blog: http://firespoets.wordpress.com/