Lament of the Lost Moon
Review of Under Every Moon by G.L. Francis
Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy for review.
The poetry anthology Under Every Moon by G.L. Francis uses the pigments of world folklore and nautical tradition to color a subtle vision of reality, full of spiritual depth and of the fantastic. The poems largely forsake traditional meter and familiar rhyme schemes, and the themes and references can be obscure. These are not poems that would show up on the back of your church's Sunday bulletin.
The poems are diverse from each other in topic, style, and mood. Most are not viscerally emotional. Presenting life from a strange or fantastic viewpoint seems to be a greater priority than using poetic language to elicit strong feelings. Wonder mingled with gentle longing is the primary emotional cast for the collection as a whole. The ballad-like “Wolfiranas” evokes a sense of adventure, and several of the poems – including the opening poem “Dreamspinner” – create strong secondary impressions of horror.
The anthology draws deeply from folklore and mythology. Familiarity with the Greek myths is required in order to understand the collection without the need to research. “Feathered Years” is based on the less-familiar Irish mythology, and “Pearl Diver” references a Japanese legend. Biblical allusions are rarer than mythological ones, the most prominent occurring in “Shell.” “Dreamspinner” opens the anthology so effectively because its imagery drives from elements common to many mythologies, making the poem monolithic and mysterious.
Greek mythology is especially important, with sirens being a recurring allusion. The centrality of Greek myth is probably due to the relevance in Greek mythology of the collection's predominate image – the sea. The intricate prose poem “Shell” uses the sea as a metaphor of life; things separated from the sea eventually die. The sea is also shown to hold the potential for grave danger. “The Siren's Reason” portrays a reef as an insatiably evil entity bent on destroying and raping the foolish virgin ship. For all of its confessed love of the oceans, the sea never becomes a metaphor of God or of ultimate mystery. “Forgive Me, Mighty Mainland God” expresses a tension between the call of sea and the worship of God.
The inability of the anthology to equate the sea with God may be an acknowledgment that the world has moved on from the days when the sea seemed endless and omnipotent and men traveled the globe only by its grace. The poems have a traditional feel to them even though their forms and structures are modern. They definitely aren't specifically postmodern, and their subjects are rooted in antiquity. However, it is clear that these poems are products of contemporary times, written for contemporary people. There is no rigid adherence to some theory of idealized pseudo-classical literature, as can be seen in some Christian circles. Instead of regularly-metered lines with rhyming quatrains, repetition-based free verse is used in “We of the Night” to show a potential for spiritual awareness in the modern all-nighter lifestyle that many people have. Rather than using epic-style blank verse, “Two of the Four Treasures” uses ordinary sentences enlivened by strong images and some parallelism to critique the hollowness of our empty consumer society. “Grains of Sand” bridges the dichotomy between the cold logic of science and the wonder of creation in a way that poets of past centuries probably could not have done.
Punctuation and capitalization techniques vary, but none of the poems follow the tradition of capitalizing every line. Some of the poems are punctuated like normal sentences, broken into free verse lines. Others have no end punctuation and no initial capital even at the beginning of the poem, though in one case that is due to the first line continuing the thought from the title. “Restoration” abstains from capitalizing even the first-person pronoun, possibly to suggest something about the nature of the supernatural narrator. The skilled use of consonance and related phonetic techniques keeps even the more awkwardly structured and non-traditional poems flowing smoothly. The understandable lack of quotation marks can be confusing in the lines from “Shatterclear”: “she says I've waited long \ for you, I've waited […],” where “she” is not explaining that the first-person narrator has been waiting for “you,” but rather directly speaking the words following “says.”
A few poems make fairly heavy of the ellipsis, perhaps a little too heavy, since the affect of the ellipsis is obvious and not extremely different form the effect of lines run together without punctuation. The dash is also prominently used, evoking the style of Emily Dickinson alongside the use of the phrase “sic transit gloria mundi” in “Chariot” (Dickinson having used “sic transit gloria mundi” in a poem titled by that phrase). In “Dreamspinner” and “Raw People II,” caesuras represented by double ellipses divide each line, emulating the ancient Anglo-Saxon skaldic form.
The anthology is unified more my mood and imagery than by theme. A prevailing theme is hard to pinpoint. The sea is an important recurring image, but it is used differently in the poems that it appears in. The titular poem, appearing halfway through the anthology, may offer a clue about the book's main theme, if there is one. “Under Every Moon” sketches each month of the year with five lines and a section title named after each month's corresponding moon. In January, the “Snow Moon,” the sun on the snow is associated with “annual birth with death foretold,” evoking the themes of circularity and renewal. A thirteenth moon appears beneath December's “Long Night Moon,” perhaps indicating that the cycle can be broken, or that there is more to reality than the circles of our world. The lines for this extra “Blue Moon” are the only lines in the poem that reference the sea. Those lines mention a “fiddle-footed wanderer” who “knows / no month, no season as home...” I'm only vaguely aware of the significance of the blue moon in ancient calendars, but the implication of the outcast moon that shines full in no particular month is applicable to the experience of the Christian artist, or to anyone who feels like an outsider in a world full of the blind.
The structure of the anthology itself may or may not be meaningful. There are a few sporadic hints that suggest that the structure is meaningful. Immediately after “Raw People” is “Raw People II,” and although it is clear that the second is a sequel rather than a continuation, the subjects of those poems go together. The fact that the sequel is labeled as “II” hints that the poems are meant to be understood together. Later on, the two short poems “Snow Snakes” and “Moon Haiku” could easily be two parts of the same poem. The requirements of the haiku form probably forced their separation, but the two appear together on the same page, where everywhere else poems are typeset on new pages. The connection between “Snow Snakes” and “Moon Haiku” is so strong that the break between them and the intervening title heading feels like a coda in a single unified poem.
The last poem in the collection is one of the most difficult. “Synchronicit-eyes” is a montage poem, built from fragments of disassociated images related only by themes. The images become progressively more complicated and subtle, subverting the initial impression of two alternating scenes. The definition of the word “synchronicit” – after you look it up in the dictionary – should be warning enough that this poem is not for the faint of mind. Although “Synchronicit-eyes” is masterfully subtle, its obscurity prevents me from speculating about the significance of the poem's placement at the end, and therefore about the anthology's structure as a whole.
Out of the fifty poems in the anthology, “Shatterclear” is the clear frontrunner in this reviewer's mind. With a flowing but not rigid iambic meter, “Shatterclear” narrates a sinner's quest in the tradition of The Pilgrim's Progress, enlivened by striking imagery. Other poems from the collection that are rewarding to read without excessive effort while still containing multiple levels of meaning are “Restoration,” “Sacrifice,” and “Waiting for Ragnarok.” “Wolfiranas” might be the most fun. “Feathered Years,” “The Bravest Fell,” and especially the intricate “Shell” are fascinating experiments with prose poetry, using poetic narrative in new and interesting ways.
There is far more to the poems comprising Under Every Moon. Although these poems are not light reading, the anthology contains many great moments and memorable images. For wanderers looking in upon life from the lonely outer void of introspection, these poems are music and fire.