Jeffrey Donaldson’s collection of poems Slack Action can at times mislead the reader into believing the author lacks a sense of polish and that there is ample room for tightening up the diction. But the sensitive reader may see in the initial poems bordering on verbose prose the imitation of the titular figure and following the recipe set out by the definition that graces the cover of Slack Action.
A railroading term, slack action refers to the degree of play that opens up in the couplings between moving cars. Loose coupling is often desirable to enable a train to bend around curves and is also an aid in starting heavy trains.
Halfway through the collection there is “More Than Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Listener” which from one perspective is organized like a train. Lots of short stanzas (from two to four lines), all compact and end-stopped, are capped by a bravura run on that takes us on a ride
Listeners at a reading are like a day
in late September, the Bruce Trail
on the escarpment near Grimsby
after the leaves have begun turning
and the air has a sour nip
because it rained that morning
and the colours are deeper
and richer than on the dry days,
and I can see the lake
off through the trees below me
with its heavy blue all the way out
and I keep still for a moment
and there is nothing like a wind
and you can hear a leaf drop
for there isn’t a sound
and without a sound I cannot tell
without looking, whether I am
the listener at a reading, or it is.
Like a caboose that concluding “or it is” — attention grabbing but returning us by a long succession to the driver: a day in September in a particular landscape: a segment of the Niagara escarpment. The time and place is personified as a listener. And of course the reader of the poem is through the speaking voice (that “I”) made to reflect upon that personification in an odd but compelling fashion for we too are like a landscape in a particular time — ready for a reading.
And so for day 1189