Kathryn Rantala,
The Plant Waterer &
Other Things in Common

(Ravenna, 2006)

This slim collection of poems is often deceptively straightforward. Its small size and quirky line drawings convey the impression that this volume is intended only as a novelty. However, it is something much more than that, for in it poet Kathryn Rantala contemplates the ways that things -- both natural and human-made -- are depicted. Her preoccupations include both their visual and verbal representation. A creator -- often a "he" -- appears as a central figure in her work.

Sometimes the things are conveyed as the products of a civilization set apart from nature. In "The Pond," a heavy protective screen is "fashioned" over the top of a fish pond to stop wildlife from taking what the hungry humans intend to keep for themselves: "All evening we kept one ear eastward, alert / for sounds of plunder." The group sleeps only when "satisfied with the security of the small world we had constructed." Here the screen can be viewed as a tool to control the uncertainty of life.

Of course, things can be more than stage props -- Rantala often bestows an animated quality to them. Cars "swarm" onto a ferry, and the wind is "theatrical" and "joking." In one lovely poem, "Vedute di Roma," the chiaroscuro pattern of stairs is "a form of greeting, intimate and private" to the 18th century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi, who climbs them to another plane.

While Rantala strives to combine simplicity of expression with complex ideas, the results sometimes fall short. Some of the poems have a lightweight, evanescent quality. Yet this collection is one that should not be abandoned upon first glance, but pondered over.

by Karen Trimbath
13 January 2007

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