Sean Patrick Hill’s The Imagined Field

I get very excited when a lesser known but deserving poet who has appeared in the pages of Redactions releases a new collection of poems.  In this case, it’s Sean Patrick Hill. Redactions published his poem, “Sometimes I See My Country” in issue 11, and then we nominated it for the Pushcart Prize. (You can read the poem here: http://redactions.com/pushcart-poems.asp.)

Sean Patrick Hill – The Imagined FieldAfter my first read through of Hill’s first collection of poems, The Imagined Field (Paper Kite Press, 2010), I felt as if I had read all these poems before. The poems seem so familiar. The language seems familiar. The tone of the poems is receptive and meditative.

It’s when I finish one of Hill’s poems that I feel the sense of completion and familiarity. In fact, it’s in the last line and for a moment after that when I feel I belong in these poems, and that’s partly what I mean by a receptive tone. The poem receives the reader. But the tone is also receptive of the nature and world around it. So actually the tone is receptive, meditative, and intimate. The poems have the tone of a young, growing mountain capped in snow. Because of all that, I had to read the book again.

On one level, the content of The Imagined Field is of poems noticing, or as Hill says, “love is what love notices.” Replace “love” with “poem” and you’ll understand. And behind most of these poems is the faint echo of some recognizable but unidentifiable melody. It’s like a back melody that responds to the poem and gives the poem’s music more depth. At times, I also hear a faint chorus.

Oh, that’s all abstract. Let’s talk about particulars.

The Imagined Field is Hill’s memories and reflections of his life in Upstate, NY, and the Pacific Northwest. In one poem, “The pond that wouldn’t freeze in winter,” the memories merge from a collection of remembered fragments from both places. At first I wondered what Hill was up to because this poem was so different from the others, which are slow, cohesive, and forward moving. But eventually through the slow accretion of dark and sobering disparate memory-moments, the poem yielded a narrative – a narrative of an inner Hill and a repressed emotional side of Hill. I get a feel for this in the poem “Rearview Mirror” when he says, “there is the smallest piece of your life seen / Reflected in an abandoned wreck on the reservation.” The reservation has dual purpose. One, it is an initial presentation of an image-situation that will appear with some importance later in the book. Two, it has set up the word “patience” and the condition for it at the end of the poem:

Patience is the longest shadow on the face of the earth. And yours.
Only yours never lets on that you struggle – why would it?
Rain finds its way through the holes: it’s cold. It lies.

Where you is himself. And earlier in that poem, he references hell, but I don’t catch the significance of that until sixteen poems later in “Glass”:

[…] A casket cut from glass, I am pulled from an oven.
I crack in the cold bath.

Waking in a bed of hot coals, pockets of dust,
I imagine building a temple in my chest,

My heart growing so large it can touch
All sides of the coffin at once.

Before I go any further, how do you not love that last image? It’s overwhelming. It’s beautiful. It describes the feel of this book perfectly. And it also makes me think, “What a tortured soul he is.” He’s suffering like Saint Augustine or Gerard Manley Hopkins. All the beauty in this book comes from that suffering, meditations upon it, and the underlying melody and chorus, which I now assume are his unconscious angels singing in the back ground like the car radio sings to him in many of these poems. And all of this leads to the one sentence that he has been trying to write his whole life:

Like a river stone
in the current, I turn over once in my bed
and come to rest.

And even those lines had some previous work and set up, such as in “Advice the Basque in Eastern Oregon Might Give.” It’s in this poem where the above mentioned tones meet a tone of ancient wisdom, which also occasionally appears in these poems. But here is his first go at writing his last sentence and an ars poetica:

The way the river molds stone
Like pearls:
That is how to make poems.
Still, some rock won’t weather.

Many of these poems in this collection are weathered into those poetic pearls, and this book will stand up to the weather of time. I hope The Imagined Field and Sean Patrick Hill both find a large audience because both are deserving.//

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June 2010


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