A Cluster of Noisy Planets
Prose Poems by Charles Rafferty
BOA Editions, 2021
American Poets Continuum Series, No. 190
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor
I love how this book begins, with “Greetings,” containing the sentences: “People of the future, gather round. I have traveled through ink to greet you.” I say “sentences” not “lines” because A Cluster of Noisy Planets, by Charles Rafferty, is a book of prose poems. The sentences hold together beautifully, sometimes surreally, as short paragraph-like gatherings of images and observations, odd facts, snippets of wisdom, and almost-stories. And I love how it ends, full circle, in “They Need Something More Durable Than Longing and Wine,” a poem with scars and tattoos in it, and this: “After all this time, ink remains the medium of love letters. It’s how the future knows what happened.”
I love how the goldenrod is blooming as I quote “The Pond.” “The world is in short supply. This field of goldenrod will never be enough, and the ocean feels suddenly crossable.” And in “Hunger”: “All over town the goldenrod is going to seed, and bees turn lazy with the lack of flowers.” Here, too, soon.
“A River of Birds” has a Hitchcockian eeriness: “A river of birds filled the sky above his house. It went on for days. That many animals can’t be wrong, he reasoned…The birds that remained were different. They shook once against the cold. They sat on the wires and looked down on him, undeterred by the lack of bounty.” It feels like, in the next moment, he’ll be eaten!
But his immortality seems ensured with wonderfully aphoristic sentences like these: “The prettier the idea, the less likely it will last. The chain we forge is father to the rust.” Unless the claim undoes itself in the moment it is uttered! Ah, the irony. He is politically wise, too, as in “Constellations” where, “The stars of the flag are not the stars that matter. They have become a constellation that the wealthy use to navigate their yachts.” Ouch!
Rafferty answers the humorous rhetorical question ‘Can you ever have too many books?’ with “The Problem of Abundance” (at the Library of Congress). And he pinpoints “The Problem with Putting ‘Audubon’ in the Name of the Local Nature Center,” as does a great story by Eudora Welty, by reminding us that “[b]efore he could paint the birds, he had to murder them.”
“Inadvertent Mousetrap” resonates with me here at harvest time, all the mice running in from the fields to the farmhouses, where they will feast briefly before being killed. And I appreciate the humor of poems like “The Arms of the Venus de Milo,” which begins, “Just yesterday I was complaining about the lack of comets, and now I’ve found the arms of the Venus de Milo in a box at my neighbor’s garage sale.” And ends, “The car keys you’ve been looking for are always where you left them.” Rafferty is a wise and gently funny man.
This is just a sampling. Read them all in A Cluster of Noisy Planets, coming out October 5 from BOA Editions. Perfect ironic timing, right before Columbus Day/Native American Day/Indigenous Peoples Day, depending on your mindset and where you live. More hard wisdom, this from “Seaplane”: “Columbus didn’t care if his inadvertent genocide came to define him. He was looking for pepper and cinnamon.” You’ll find plenty of spicy wisdom, and caring, in this book.
Prose poems from the book at EIL:
Poetry book reviews at EIL:
Charles Rafferty’s Short Fiction reviewed by Seana Graham at EIL: