The Quilliad Reviews: Oregon Pacific by Nancy Slavin

imageSlavin’s collection is a tribute to the coastits histories, day-to-day dramas, and the power of the ocean. Nature is powerful here because of its adaptability, despite our interventions (and even invasions). Waves overwhelm the hapless road in “After the Storm”, while in “Landowner”, mold and mildew bloom in the speaker’s office. Our domination of nature is questioned, both its wisdom and its truth, and the relationship between the natural world and civilization is investigated throughout the collection. This relationship shifts many times, but it remains the focus.

Ultimately, nature mostly knows best in Oregon Pacific. In “Cape Meares Lake”, human industry is valuable in relation to its harmony with nature“I know you are man made / but some good has come of that”, while “Blues for the Birds” compares the complexities (and, it seems, foolishness) of human society with the straightforward instincts of birds. In “Cape Lookout”, as in many other pieces throughout the collection, nature is the setting for a spiritual quest. The speaker is in an in-between space, “[her] soul / again at that time of dusk where shadow meets shape”, her internal spiritual world mingling with the physical world, just as the civil connects with the natural. The speaker “walks the whole trail” in more ways than one, her “trial by fire” an emotional and spiritual journey as well as a walk amongst the trees, until “an ember of sun burns the tops of the evergreens [ . . . ] for that one brief joyous moment.” As occurs elsewhere in Oregon Pacific, this joy belongs to her and the natural world around her. Nature’s many incarnations are characters in themselves, often imbued with some level of pathetic fallacy, engaging in varying ways with the speaker’s emotions. Nature is a constant referent for the speaker, even when she is at odds with the natural rhythms of the world: “I am at the end of a cycle, / though it is summer, a world within me / dies.”

The collection is unified by its subject matter, with both formal and freeverse poems sitting side-by-side. Slavin moves mostly effortlessly between forms, though some rhymes are slightly singsong. This intense focus on the coast and the humannature relationship can sometimes make the poems within the collection blur together. Yet this strict attention, when combined with Slavin’s eye for details and the precision of her language, also renders the flora, fauna, and landscape within her poems whole and real with fresh images and loving specificity. One of my favourite pieces in the collection, “Communiqué“, offers this depiction of crows taking flight: “The flap of wings taps in one dark / hearbeat against the pale white sky until / the birds splinter apart, like buckshot spent / in all directions.” “Urchins” provides a similar level of insight into the space between land and sea: “Urchins, anemone, starfish, and mussels / at low ebb wait, exposed. Scarlet tendrils, / mouths chartreuse, clustered in colonies / bound together.” Overall, the reader is left with a strong sense of place and the intensity of the impression that the North Oregon coast has left on the poet.

Sarah

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