Ends of the earth by kate partridge (university of alaska press, 2017)
Reviewed by Bianca Glinskas
Walt Whitman once described a poem as, “a place to enter, and in which to feel.” While reading Kate Partridge’s Ends of the Earth, I experienced this profound sense of transportation, and emotional surrender–the escapism and vulnerability Whitman refers to. Ends of the Earth is a portal which delivers readers into a poet’s imagination: the inventive, intangible tedium of the poet’s inner-workings, which transform attempts to make sense of the world into an art.
I had the privilege of consulting Partridge for the sake of this review-interview hybrid piece. The result offers profound “behind-the-scenes” insight into the creative mechanics of Ends of the Earth, in order to better reveal its intelligent design and thematic depth
Ends of the Earth both is and is not autobiographical. Partridge shares: “My poems certainly reflect certain biographical facts of my life—where I’ve lived, people I’ve spent time with—but more than anything they follow my pattern of thought about a subject, which is usually very fragmented and associative, and often includes lots of research.” In fact the closing Note lists over thirty source texts, ranging from Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Adrienne Rich to texts on Anatomy, Phrenology, and Physics.
For Partridge, research means extensive reading. This tremendous source of information certainly influences and intellectually informs these poems in multitude ways. Partridge shares: “I’m interested as a reader in poems that open up their path of inquiry to me, and which are more invested in conveying perspective than in landing in any one place. I like poems that ask rather than answer.” Partridge’s poems are seemingly limitless in their scope, exploring the domestic, mythic, and scientific. The culminating emotional charge and sense of exploration is one of epic magnitude. Consider this moment from the collection’s opening, namesake poem, “Ends of the Earth”:
Gilgamesh said: Tavern keeper
when you saw me
why did you bar your door
mount the roof terrace?
I will strike down your door;
I will shatter your doorbolt.
He’s looking for the underworld, and its signs
Partridge braids several narrative-inquiries throughout Ends of the Earth, making frequent use of the poem sequence, a longer form which involves combining several poems together within a single piece. This inherently develops a dependency upon the reader to give the work its coherence; we readers are thus drawn toward the intersection of these various inquiries, pulled to discern their pattern or parallelism. This array of “realities” are sewn together, stitch by stitch and side-by-side, like a quilt. Consider this second excerpt from the same poem-sequence “Ends of the Earth” which details a scene between Partridge and her wife, Alyse, recalling a moment from their life together in Alaska:
Alyse and I walk the trail along the mudflats—
post dinner, post drinks at Darwin’s,
the sun tucks down at eleven.
The inlet ice has begun to shift
in plates—lips jutting underneath,
pressure lofting the chunks over
magnificent clods easily mistaken for rock.
At the end of the world, mountains
form a barrier against invasion, she says.
There is a balancing act at work: a joining of the personal with the scientific, as if some scales weigh out the significance of each for comparison or competition. Partridge shares, “I consider myself a gatherer of stylistic choices—my poems contain many different tonal and formal moves, from passages that are more like reportage to some that are strictly lyric interludes. The poems reflect the way I think of different perspectives in conversation. “ Coherence is achieved through collage.
This is true also in “Concussion”;this poem-sequence uses definition and demonstration as a premise for unearthing truths about scientific study, the physical sensation of pain, the body’s fragility, and grappling with our own mortality
In 1966, Ommaya et al. Strapped
eighty monkeys into chairs
and administered blows to the head
with four-pound pistons, ranging from
a gentle tap to a fatal blow. The criteria
for concussion: abolition of response
Then, continues later:
Wilfred Owen suffered a concussion.
Later, he was hit by a shell blast and lay
semiconcious in a shell crater, empty
save the remains of a friend.
It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel.
I knew you in this dark.
There is a sort of quivering to how these relate to one another. In part it this impressive layering of perspectives and aesthetics which makes Partridge’s debut collection an immensely rich and refreshing experience.
Partridge speaks to the philosophy behind the poetry, sharing, “ I love thinking about new poems and how they articulate their own logics. I want to be devastated by their beauty, and that’s the metric I use to decide what my new loves are—if they pull me entirely out of this world and compel me to spend time in their own.” Partridge certainly succeeds in transporting readers with this work–in bringing us face to face with the boundaries within ourselves.