The idea binding the poems of An Ever River, the new collection by British poet David Russell, is found in the title poem. In fact, it’s found in the title of the title poem. Life is a river, an ever river, flowing forever through time, containing and absorbing natural and human creation and memory. The river swallows pollution, sludge, war, monuments, and palaces, and cleanses them all.
The collection’s 26 poems address such creatures and natural phenomena as whales, earthquakes, “eco-thunderstorms,” and scorpions, and then go on to include humans’ natural phenomena, like panic, progress, dreams, mid-life, old love letters, and even cremation. The natural and the human blend together—or perhaps the human phenomena, good and bad, are extensions of the natural.
In one poem, Russell writes about clouds, but not the familiar clouds we see in the daylight sky. These are the clouds of past wars, and how we consider past wars, wars that flow into memory, even as nature moves on in its “happy ignorance.”
In chroniclers’ minds
past wars all went full circle,
making great urban filth destroy itself
so that the finest flowers and shrubs
could sprout at random.
And birds, in exultation
or happy in their ignorance,
made rills of melody
now man had passed them by.
But now, with ice and poison,
for one full year enthralled, embalmed,
and after that, growth’s circle
jarred shuddering in mid-turn,
can even a worm
or an amoeba celebrate?
The poems are filled with metaphors and allusions to the natural world, sometimes so jarring and unexpected that we have to stop, go back, and reread. Does it really mean that? And then we reread the poem and discover a second meaning, a second understanding. In “Clouds,” the birds may be singing “now that man has passed them by,” but the fact is that man has passed them by, and something else is happening.
Russell is a poet, singer, songwriter, literary critic, and writer. His poetry collection Prickling Counterpoints was published in 1998. His speculative fiction includes High Wired On and Rock Bottom. He’s published several romances, including Self’s Blossom, Explorations, Further Explorations, Therapy Rapture, and Darlene. His CDs include “Bacteria Shrapnel” and “Kaleidoscope Concentrate.” Russell lives in the United Kingdom.
An Ever River is what might be called “eco-poetry,” but it is more than that. It’s a reminder that we are part of a larger whole, and that larger whole continues, sometimes damaged and sometimes mended, but it continues, nonetheless.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish