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Ephemeris by Dorothy Lehane

Ephemeris by Dorothy Lehane

Nine Arches Press

Dorothy Lehane opens her recently published book of poems with a quotation from that old Black Mountaineer Buckminster Fuller:

‘I live on earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process—an integral function of the universe.’

Let me add another quotation to this and it comes from Part One of Fuller’s Critical Path essays:

‘In scientific prognostication we have a condition analogous to a fact of archery—the farther back you are able to draw your longbow, the farther ahead you can shoot. For this reason we opened this book with our “Speculative History,” taking us back five million years through four ice ages, and at least three and one-half million years of scientifically proven presence of humans on Earth. We are confident of the validity of our speculative prehistory because it is predicated on naked humans’ physical limits of existence and on environmentally permitted and induced human behaviour and on human artefact-altered environments and their progressive circumstance- delimiting and capability-increasing effects. It is also synergetically comprehensive.’

Lehane’s second poem in this volume of energetic sparks is titled ‘Buckminster Fuller’:

‘heck, pioneer, maverick
Buckminsterfullerene: clean coal,
giant trilby, the dome geodesic

spacer molecules
unitary air is in the air

primitive bacteria are alive with you
man is not consciously cell
nor quasi-paradox

consumption with depression
meaning inertia’

We may indeed not be ‘consciously cell’ but Fuller claimed, soon before the publication of Critical Path that in July 1980, at eighty-five years of age ‘I have consumed over 1000 tons of food, water, and air, which progressively, atom by atom, has been chemically and electromagnetically converted into all the physical components of my organism and gradually displaced by other income atoms and molecules.’ The Foreword Fuller wrote to this, his most important book, concludes with a quotation from e. e. cummings, a poet’s advice: ‘A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.’ And Fuller then goes on to add ‘I’m not claiming to be a poet or that this book is poetry, but I knew cummings well enough to be confident that he would feel happy that I had written it.’ Dorothy Lehane is a poet.

I like the movement of sound in that early poem, the clicking echo between the slangy ‘heck’ and the claim for amateurism in ‘maverick’. I like the movement of eye between the human and the mathematical as ‘giant trilby’ sits beside ‘dome geodesic’. I like the merging of plurality into oneness as ‘molecules’ and ‘bacteria’ are recognised as part of the life within. The consumption of language, reading words and digesting meaning, makes us who we are and is provocative of movement not ‘inertia’. From its Greek origin onwards synergism suggests propulsion towards work. Odysseus was the only one who could string and draw that bow: get out of the way suitors; wrong time, wrong place!

In her introduction to the second issue of Litmus Dorothy Lehane directs our attention towards poetry which is ‘inherently neurological’ and yet which ‘doesn’t labour to assign literary parallels for scientific theory, nor promote heavy use of devices such as metaphor’. The work to be found within the hundred or so pages of this startling new issue of what already promises to become a major magazine player for the forthcoming years presents ‘subtle coded work operating at the limits of collaborative engagement’.

Bucky would, I suspect, have appreciated Dorothy Lehane’s poems and would also have had respect for ‘the neurological issue’ of Litmus: dip into it and see!

Ian Brinton 27th October 2014: centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas.

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