Posts Tagged ‘Venti’

A Review of “Venti” by JoAnne McKay

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

Like Kat Dixon’s Don’t Go Fish, and Jesse Bradley’s The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You Is a Robot (both reviewed before for decomP), Venti is a book I carry around with me frequently. I dip in and out of it. It’s like dunking your head underwater and listening to the clicking of the sea.

I was worried it wouldn’t arrive in the post. It was a month and a half late. I blame the snow, the Christmas, the Irish postal system. When it arrived and I unwrapped it, I felt relief, and, on further investigation, a small explosion of delight.

Like Eric Beeny’s Snowing Fireflies, Venti is beautifully made. It’s obvious from the get go that it has been much loved. It is punctuated here and there with stark, angular images (by Matt Kish) inspired by Moby Dick.

The poetry borrows titles from the Bible, ‘For Ishmael and Elijah and Those Who See’; science, ‘Levity, Gravity’ and, ‘Hippocampus, Hippocampus’—the genus of seahorse: the poem plays with the Ancient Greek word forms—; and ‘Octopodes,’ a rare plural of ‘octopus’. The title of the collection, Venti either refers to the Roman gods of the winds, or a network storage system that permanently stores data blocks. Both meanings are possible. On producing the book in my Auntie Hilda’s kitchen (think cats and teapots and a picture of the Sacred Heart), she avidly studied it, but complained of the sometimes long and unintelligible titles. This is not a collection for the uneducated. I had to look up many words on the ever-trusty Wikipedia. Brush up on your reading.

The poems. They are tight and controlled and deal with often complicated but elegant images and ideas. From ‘Hippocampus, Hippocampus,’ the first poem in the collection:

the memories of meaning
of things that were and are
lie in your sea-horse structure,
pulling us this way and that,
making the past the present
ripe for reminiscence,
ready for what will be.

Some of the poems remind me of the early work of the British Laureate Ted Hughes, in that they concern themselves with the natural world; octopuses, seahorses, trees, the moon, horses, hares. ‘May Fly,’ in particular has striking similarities to his ‘Examination at the Womb Door,’ from Crow:

When is the dead time, mother?
At midnight.
What time is it now, mother?
One micron past midnight.

And so on.

In summary, there is a 19th century air of education and classical allusion here that is charming if somewhat elitist. Secondly, the poetry itself is beautiful and fragile. It wavers on the edges of things. Lastly, my favourite poem is ‘Northern Lights’. Short and sweet:

Aurora Borealis.
What a mouthful that is.

Official JoAnne McKay Web Site