Review by Martin Abramson
THE HEARTBREAK AT THE HEART OF THINGS
By Vince Clemente
Seventh Quarry Press, Swansea, Wales
$15.00, 50 pp, Paper
By permission of Book/Mark Quarterly
The things Vince Clemente loves about John Hall Wheelock, are the things I love about Clemente: an empathic ear for human situations; a weather eye for the most delicate exemplars of nature; a mind attuned to the mysteries of being. Mr. Clemente’s ability to see the tragic glory buried beneath both natural phenomena and the human soul is plainly implied in the title of this collection.
Most of the studies in Heartbreak arise from long, contemplative walks along the restless shores and “alluvial mudflats” of the Atlantic coast of Long Island which he calls by its Algonquin name: Paumanok. American Indian names resonate for Clemente: Shinnecock; Nissequague; Mattituck; Connetquot; Peconic: place names on any map of the island.
Sometimes alone, often with his wife and lifetime companion, Annie, he wanders the fields and forests above Long Island Sound. Living in Sag Harbor, he has easy access to both bodies of water.
As a nature poet, Clemente is gifted with the idiosyncratic word-hoard used to describe in ever novel ways the minute details of living creatures and local flora. Mr. Clemente often calls his talent ‘small’, but if so, it is a vast smallness replete with the prismatic hues and ripe musk of this world. A deeply spiritual intuition guides his pen. Every line a reflection of God’s glory.
Here’s a bouquet of images: lilac rain; apricot light; aspen fingers viscous with pine pitch; tarn deep well; breastplate of sleek eelfare; monk-bent forsythia; dusk’s pollen glow; sun a lavender wingbar; tundra petals; aluminum sky; moraine of vowel. He finds endless flowers: gentian; trillium; iris; columbine; spartina. And from the sea: blues saunter in a tidal pool; shell-hoard/ of whelks & limpet, periwinkle, conch.
The religious motif recurs throughout this volume: nuns at vespers; canonical matins; River Gods; souls of lost children; the Lord’s aspen fingers; the barn owl…chittering a song of creation; kneel in the morning; bathe as Eve did. The poet finds epiphanies in “a girl washing her hair in a rain/ barrel at sunset” and feels remorse over a doe wounded by an arrow or a tanager colliding with a window.
He understands why Hawkins, a neighbor, having lost a daughter, carefully builds a nest for wood ducks. “A Circle of Meadow” links a grassy habitat the poet has left untouched, reserved for avian life, with another vibrant image: the memory of an intellectually acquisitive boy who ransacked the libraries of Brooklyn and scattered verbal riches “through Brooklyn streets” and “under the Brighton Express”. But it is the adult, for whom “the granary of love” is rededicated, which “as a swallow, drawn to the clearing, drinks from my heart/fissured as it is”.
In addition to Wheelock, Clemente pays homage to several contemporary poets, all from New England: Whitman, Thoreau; Kerouac; W.C.Williams and Karl Shapiro. In “Francis, Here My Hand” , he acknowledges a deeply felt communion with St.Francis and the “small, helpless things” the saint loved:
the child scaling
the womb’s walls…
licking its mother…
the field mouse scurrying
the barn owl leaning
in its nest…
the solemn cry
of earthly things
stirring to Be:
In everyday life, Professor Clemente maintains a steady correspondence with poets worldwide and has hundreds of letters and signed volumes to show for it. He often publishes appreciations of noted English and Irish poets. As American poetry editor for The Seventh Quarry, he still exerts a powerful influence on the nurture of fledgling poets.
Professor Clemente is a chthonic force from the smoldering core, reanimating a landscape made prosaic by malls and gas stations. He turns back the clock, restoring Paumanok’s Algonquin demesne to it’s original freshness and wonder. The pre-Columbian earth breathes in his poems and for the space of an hour’s perusal, he takes us there.
Reprinted from Book/Mark A Quarterly Small Press Review, Spring 2013.