From the Age of Miracles by David Chorlton
Reviewed by Seth Jani
Reviewed by Seth Jani
At a time when an unfathomable portion of the independent poetry community is trapped in the down and out language and literalism made possible by Bukowski (and rendered hopeless without him), David Chorlton’s craft is a like a gem amongst the muck, reflecting the world back to us with grace, honesty and a small hint of rugged optimism.
Chorlton is not a poet who has inherited the reductionism and naturalism so prevalent in post-modern North American literature; instead he has stayed true to his European roots brining to American poetry a revived Romanticism that retains all the visionary energy associated with that term, without any of the sentimental pitfalls.
Informed by his years living and writing in the desert regions of the American Southwest, Chorlton’s “From the Age of Miracles” is like one of the Mojave’s sparse floral species, hard, at times relentless, but also pregnant with nutrients essential to sustaining and re-vegetating the waste around it. It is a book that is neither afraid to address society’s inadequate political situation, nor hold up to its face the natural world it seems so hell-bent on destroying.
“From the Age of Miracles”, which was the winner of Slipstream’s 2009 Chapbook competition, is a slim read at only 31 pages, but it serves as a document of profound opposition ( a term one finds frequently in its pages). But Chorlton’s is not the physical, at times violent opposition of the young, of mass protest. Instead it is an opposition that stems from one who has lived his life close to the natural cycles of birth and death. A Taoistic protest, invoked not in overpopulated city streets, but murmured on lonely nights to the desert wind, an opposition that believes in the gentle power of words, of language and “the grace of chaos” to lead us towards a greater resolution.
One can better sense the nature of this protest by looking to the book itself. To the people who he addresses in the book’s 11 letter-poems: John Clare, the famous peasant-poet of 19th century England, William Wordsworth, who so often fought the battle against industrialization, Ryokan, the Zen monk and poet, and Surrealist painter Rene Magritte, regularly upsetting the rational, linear world we so blindly take for granted.
To the poems themselves, such as “The Invisible Demonstrator”, which so boldly begins “I’ve chosen today to demonstrate against the war the way I chose yesterday to do the same. So I set out walking early with my dog on her leash and my eyes turned toward the trees where I count species of birds”.
But be assured the slow, quiet protest infused throughout is also not a product of apathy, or neglected conscience, but rather the result of a life that has, at one point or another, passed through the hard fire of political activism and seeing through it, prefers to no longer fuel that fire. David Chorlton’s poetry is the record of a man who has reached the apex of the pyramid, and is looking fearfully upon the two sides as they relentlessly battle, threatening to bring the whole creation down. It is poetry that serves as a tough though not proselytizing “No” to our world’s deranged politics, while simultaneously reaching out as a resounding “Yes” to the forces of life that continue to infuse the natural world despite our endless attempts to smother them.
Though “From the Age of Miracles” is at times mildly despondent, at times mildly enraged, more than anything else it is a testament to the visionary, a beckons back to the earth, away from the “winner take all” race of politics and corporate packaging, away from the industrial no man’s land we have come to worship and that over and over again has proven itself to be nothing but a vacuum of “ones and zeroes”.