Story rescues no one from death, but out of the seams and lacunae of narrative a certain kind of lyric can emerge. In Notes for a Rescue Narrative, J. Mark Smith charts the oxbow turnings of diverse human voices through scepticism and belief, hope and despair, pride and humility. Inspired by the elegiac plainness of Wordsworth as much as by the many-mindedness of Pound, Smith’s poems probe into regions of experience where meaning falls away, and “the names hardly stick.”
A middle-aged British sailor remembers, decades afterwards, a strange “human-and-not-human” incident in the colonial port of Bombay. A man walking his dog near the Katyn monument in Toronto wonders at signs, and at the “mother-deep” ocean of human suffering. In a moment “out of an airport,” the speakers and story-tellers of the Mackenzie River regroup and ready themselves, not for a rescue, but for the future. Blue jays in the pine forests of the Great Basin turn through a death-dance of forgetfulness and fecundity. A traveller on a snow-bound plane straightens his spine to bear the difficult reality of an unstoried present. A man buries his long-dead father’s alpine equipment beneath a mountain in California, and finds a new welcome in the familiar “noise of chaos.”
Notes for a Rescue Narrative moves deftly between metrical and free verse forms, and includes homages to Horace, Eugenio Montale, and Antonio Machado.