BOOM! Seagulls dive over a beach and land neatly on paper. For Renaissance Man Donald Everett Axinn squats against a dune scribbling--islands, berries, turtles, plural nouns. He glues the words together with broad images like love, wind, or sea, making poems from them.
See how he runs--Axinn, besides being a poet, is a former college dean, "designer-developer" and pilot. His flight experience, along with nature, constituted the two sources of inspiration for the poems in his recently released collection. The Hawk's Dream. Indeed, the descriptions of flight and forest scenes provide virtually the only energy in the poems. His overuse of the plural, a common tendency among contemporary poets, makes his work disturbing and unfocused. He describes his subjects and then does not seem quite sure what to do with them.
He makes a good stab, though. Like a student who hasn't done the week's reading but tries to answer a question in section, Axinn grabs onto broad, oft-used poetic ideas--like the wind, or the poet--and tries to surround the images and vignettes in a cloud of meaning. The result is little more than a patch of ground fog.
MANY OF THE POEMS in The Hawk's Dream start out with seemingly objective descriptions of nature and then shift gears into romantic apostrophe. It's as if Axinn grew bored with the berries and nuts and scrambled for a new theme to revitalize the poem before it flopped. He twists his words and superimposes one theme over another to prevent the poems from becoming dull. Axinn introduces the poem "Appointment in Samara" with an explanatory story:
"...and one of them, on seeing
Death, runs away to Samara.
'That's strange,' Death says
to the other, 'that's where
I have an appointment with her.'" The fragment is a throwaway, a trite meeting of Woman with Death. And the poem is only a description of two lovers meeting in the forest--the only energy is the contrast between the two kinds of meetings implied. Axinn has written a poem by gluing two vignettes together--and it is a small monument to confusion and disunity.
Axinn's language tricks--In Which The Poet Uses Words In More Ways Than One. Trying To Milk More Meaning--only succeed in making the poetry more ambiguous. In a poem called "Indian Shell Ring Loop Trail,"--a title distinguished simply by containing many unrelated nouns--the poet writes:
Soft Spanish moss, green and sometimes gray,
like spider webs thrown into branches
for drying out, are romped in
by squirrels and formed into rests. What's going on here? Which is the subject and which is the verb? It's unclear what this grammar trick does to advance the poem--maybe Axinn merely wants us to applaud his cleverness.
His choice of subject matter is truly clever, and the vast resources of imagery almost prevent the poems from becoming dull:
He watches the loon dive,
Bluefish ravage and feast; beyond
A thin line of cormorants skim the waves
Repeating the season's ritual
But Axinn rarely manages to find a theme springing directly from the images in his poetry. Rather than asking any questions that might interest the reader, or dealing other than superficially with the images of modern life that now confront all poets. Axinn tries to dodge them by watching birds. He creates a world of his own, fitting images awkwardly into his one-with-nature ideas.
At times, when the confusion of multiple objects does not interfere with his scenes, Axinn writes palatable, single-theme poetry using tidy lines like "I shall fold you into myself." His voice is clear, and he does not create any discomfort for the reader. He is only trying to convey enjoyment.
But unless Axinn begins to deal more seriously with questions instead of pictures, his poetry will become pure fluff. It will remain superficially interesting but lose its challenge. Tricks run out easily, and after all, almost anyone can look at a seagull.