Orrery – the word means a model of the solar system, but the sound conveys even more mysterious potency: gold, pride, exoticism, awkwardness, the unknown. It’s a compelling symbol – the American space probe – Pioneer 10- launched in 1972 and retired in 2003 – for our human fascination with the mechanical, the celestial, and also a testament to our recklessness, our confusions, all the layers of our materiality, our emptiness. Donna Kane writes within the knowledge of how the slightest shifts of wings engage fate, or the stirring of horses alters the lupines (Intrusion), the hovering wasp shudders the parsley (Tasseography). As Simone Weil said (an apropos quotation for Kane who uses the word soul several times in Orrery), “Attention is the soul of prayer”. Beyond the ostensible subject focus of the space probe’s journeys, Kane’s overarching aim is connection, to show how, as is the case with an actual orrery, everything orbits around everything else; we all exist within each other’s tremors.
Kane is a modern metaphysical poet, a fusion of a paganized Donne and a slighter Eiseley, her researched obsession with the space probe serving up unique conceits that attach her even more intimately to earth and its delicate, tenuous, intense processes. Orrery has a bit of a slow, too-thinly-sketched start but by the funny irony of “Depiction of a Man and a Woman on the Pioneer 10 Space Probe Plaque” (a drawing that is featured later on in the book – but why not here?), one is ready to delve into the how the absurdities of space travel can collide with our fear of what vaginal clefts could signify. Kane, though she doesn’t write much in codified forms, has a sharp feel for the line break, the stanza’s sensibilities and the singing hinge of internal rhymes. This piece, with its three nine-line stanzas and final snap of a closing zinger – “It hopes you will understand,” succeeds not only on the basis of its image depiction but also due to its perfectly paced tone and resonance. Listen to these lines: “If a representation of a man with a penis/and a woman without a vagina/is hurtling at twenty clicks a second/away from Earth and makes contact/with an alien who thinks/just as we do,/so admires the woman’s hairdo…” The surreal melds with the strange then collides with the familiar, the do/hairdo echo snapping it all together with crisp diction and conversational gestures. And the reader can’t help but be present.
“Eulogy for Analog” is even more of an aural feast: “Out with the rumble, tortillas of vinyl,/in with the jitter, the flickering screen,/the click click click of a digital riff.” Here Kane demonstrates the tangibilities of sound, how materiality can be conveyed by all of the senses, and how withdrawals of aurality emphasize situations of loss. Other energetic entrees in this first section are “The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You,” “Space Shuttle Columbia,” and “On the Material World” where the orrery twists into the quotidian representation of “an egg, an orange and a flashlight.” Good as these pieces are, I found myself relishing more of the poems in the second and third parts, perhaps because I warm more readily to earthy substance. And Kane is such a meticulous observer of the multiplicitous nature of existence. How we can be so full of conflicts, aware of the “smoke…the guy who threw a wad of green duct tape” on the ground yet still enjoy “happy hour” (Vancouver, August 2018); how one can continue to like and even mourn a person who ditches empties and shoots birds (Magpies); how the eater and the eaten become each other’s inner and outer in the act of being con(Heron and Fish).
I feel especially fond of the delicious blues-smooshiness of “Fungus Love” (“let me be your honey-tuft, your candlesnuff/your pom-pom, tinder, hoof”) that concludes in an essential praise of death as a form of “mycorrhizal” desire, and “Horse Chestnut,” a poem that takes simile into the stratosphere of gobstoppers, Bing Crosby’s sound waves, candied cherry and ends with the innocent-wise order to “Hold the chestnut to your/ cheek – the coolness you feel is your own heat vanishing.” Although a few poems seem unfinished bits towards a thought, wrapped up too pat like “Antlers” which closes with the abrupt histrionics of “re-prong/or I will die,” the honed lyrics in Orrery feel mostly like genuine, real, human movements of awe and listening in the face of space and death and biology and time. And this, as a pursuit, constitutes the necessary core of poetry.