Buzzed Books #71 by Will Rincon
James Longenbach’s Earthling
Few poetry collections can connect with both poetry aficionados and newcomers alike the way Earthling does. Professor and critic, James Longenbach exemplifies contemporary poetry with his fifth collection, one that draws readers in with simplicity into the themes of childhood, mothers, and nihilism. The speakers of these poems wander between reality and metaphor, animals and forests, while memories of mother intrude in poems much like everyday life.
“The Crocodile” explores the perspective of the “pebble worm” and the speaker’s final moments with his mother. “I survived the great extinctions, / I pretended to be myself.” But, beyond that, primeval themes of hunting, evolution, and self-discovery are explored through the giant lizard. “If called to, I could wait beneath the water a long time. / I could let a bird pick leeches from my tongue…My throat / Was capable of many different sounds but the pleasure / was in keeping it silent, letting parts of me be seen.” The style and the analogy is deft.
Reality is often bent when entering the forest throughout this collection. Dogs disappear with “no shadow, no narrative,” wear raincoats, and run free. They desire to escape, and we are to follow their example, remember what it was to run free in our youth. Subtly, readers find themselves wishing to be lost in the woods and not be tied to the leashes of employment and responsibilities. “Running in circles, / getting tangled in the leash. // It’s hard remaining human in the forest.” Longenbach’s symbolism is haunting throughout. Dogs and death reappear, echoing the untamed. His love for nature is often reminiscent of Robert Frost with a similar sullen air that reminds us of where we come from.
Ultimately, Longenbach explores what it is to be an earthling with calm, controlled poems rooted in soul and wonder. The truth in his words should make an impression on any reader: “I love you, earth. / What space I inhabit / You’ll fill with water or sky.”
Will Rincon is an MFA candidate for fiction at the University of Central Florida. When he is not depriving himself of sleep, he enjoys board games, anime, and spending time with his family. He highly recommends you watch Battlestar Galactica.