Finding Meaning Beyond Simple Definitions | Review of “Ink Monkey” by Diana Hartog (2006) Brick Books.

Somewhere in my search beyond a life out of a tiresome media career, I recently discovered the “819” section of my local library. This section includes an assortment of  small press poetry that has captured my imagination in it’s exploration of not only the human condition but also the world in general. Diana Hartog’s Ink Monkey is one such example from that section.

The Link between Reader and Writer (page 29)

Perhaps you’re sitting up in bed, and have tilted

the light to the page so as not to disturb lying beside you

another person

Or listening for the children’s squeals from the

upstairs tub, you have gone to kneel

and with a towel blot their sturdy little bodies

-leaving the face down on the couch.

Outside in the random silence, the desert wind

is jangling against the flagpole

some metal thing.

Hartog’s words may seem simple and the subject of her poems a bit off beat, but upon second and third readings of her works, one realizes the profound observations she is making about society and the world we all inhabit.

Nightclass – Page 25

The Mad Professor shouts, taps the blackboard with a stick

and paces to explain the great mating and uncoupling

of the planets: the retrograde dance, the southern reeling

of those ideas known as stars.

He cranks the system by hand

and the painted tin globes of Mercury & Venus & Mars

-stiff-armed on wires –

revolve by jerks around a Sun with the rind of a grapefruit,

the sundry moons (some as tiny as peas) racing dizzily,

as the homeless of an L.A. alley lie stretched full-length

on broken sofas in the street: smoking, gazing up through a blur

of smog, at the flickering light of past mistakes

they can now pinpoint.

Jellyfish may seem to be insignificant to many of us, yet Hartog has a whole section describing their movements and their appearances called Jellyfish Suite.

Little Jerks (page 54)

The erratic young

-moon jellies in miniature, countless air-bubbles, fringed – contract in sneezes ah-choo ah-choo as they pulse in frantic jerks past full-blown Aurelia labita and sometime get in the way: Bump

the scalloped hem

of a bell that’s begun to expand in vol-

uptuous slow motion .  . . . . . Ah-… …. AH –

Hartog also gives her views on a collection of woodblock prints made by the 19 C Japanese master Utagawa Hiroshige. Her views on The Tokaido Road prints are fascinating.

Station 13 – Numazu 

Forest of a Thousand Pines (Page 76)

From the Forest of a Thousand Pines and its deep silence, I emerged at dusk, having followed the voices of children gathering cones into the baskets.

There was a still time: the darkening sea stretched far to the line of a horizon as yet unbroken by the special moon. The waters deceptively calm, as if this were any night. Against my better judgement I sought out the hut of a local poet. We had met once before, in Edo, but holding differing views. Finally the way was pointed through a maze of alleys.

I found him shivering but in high spirits, cowled in a blanket, revising his poems. -one of which, he claimed, is to be anthologized.

Worried about the moon, I soon left.

I am not sure if I have the disciplinary tools to talk about poetry but I do love my explorations into the “819” section of the library. And if there are more books like Diana Hartog’s Ink Monkey, I will soon return.

Link to Brick Books’ page for “Ink Monkey”

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