By Stu O’Connor
At a time when it seems one must search with some effort for poetry that rings with original, deeply considered imagistic perspectives, the hubble cantos, by Tree Riesener, is brimming with astonishing imagery and thoughtful verse. If, as Joseph Campbell stated in his book Creative Mythology (and I paraphrase here), the role of poetry is to cause the floor to fall out from under the everyday and plunge us into the mythic, Riesener has accomplished this in spades. Not only does she take us on a tour of the cosmos in an ekphrastic series of poems based on images from the Hubble Telescope, she challenges our perspective of ourselves in our world and that cosmos. In the process of completing this daunting task, Campbell’s proverbial floor drops out from fantastic and beautiful images from the Hubble, to the infinite, the unknowable, and sensations beyond the capacity of humans to comprehend. In other words, by the end of this collection, she comes pretty damn close to describing the indescribable, and leaves us, at last, feeling as if we’ve not only witnessed, but have experienced, the majestic workings of our universe.
From the very opening piece, entitled “prologue: onws; speculations on the voynich manuscript,” Riesener challenges us to consider perspectives. The Voynich Manuscript, an early 15th century illustrated vellum codex from Central Europe, housed in Yale University’s library, is handwritten in an unknown language which remains undecipherable to this day. The manuscript features astronomical charts of unknown constellations and illustrates 113 unidentified plant species. Riesener juxtaposes this mysterious unknown with the powerful imagery of what is “known” to us through the lens of the Hubble. In the process, she deftly incorporates Jungian symbolism, references to the Albigensian Crusade, and a running metaphor that love, like the cosmos, is as all-encompassing as the view of infinite space captured by the Hubble Telescope. No mean feat, that!
The concluding poem, “song of the perseus black hole,” is a four-part poem that evokes the true unknowability of the “known,” as well as invoking the music of the spheres, a Medieval and Renaissance concept where only those with a “pure” soul could hear the music:
that’s b flat on the piano
but imagine b flat
fifty-seven octaves below middle c
ten million years between each sound wave
a million billion times below anything our ears can hear
than the way the organ makes the pew vibrate
when you’re sitting in the back row
than the way your legs feel
when you’re riding a big old tractor in a wheat field on a hot day
way way deeper
than the time you were deafened
for twenty-four hours after sitting in front
of the speakers at a stones’ concert
deep deep deep
Every poem in between these two bookends resonates with the same insatiable curiosity, the same crackling energy, the same Blakean sense of awe and wonder at the miracle of which we are a part. This is a thinking man’s collection of poems, but it has just as much to offer to the casual reader who wants to soak up some of the glory and wonder of the strange, powerful, lovely, intimidating universe in which we are just a tiny speck. I would also go so far as to suggest that whether intentionally or not, Riesener also presents a challenge for us to ponder our own perspectives at this juncture of history in America; a time when perspective is a sorely lacking commodity. Such considerations of the infinite often places our petty concerns into a more sober and realistic perspective.
You should read this book. It will definitely adjust your mind as to what is and what is not important in our lives. We need a lot more books, songs, and poems like this, but for now, this powerful testament to our cosmos will fill the need just fine…
Photo credits: Tree Riesener and philly.com.
the hubble cantos
by Tree Riesener
Aldrich Press, 2016
Stu O’Connor is an educator, musician, and poet who has spent his life dedicated to the power of the word, the necessity of precision in language, and the human need for story as a method of transmitting culture, ideas, and understanding. He has been published in The Mad Poets Review, New Voices in American Poetry, and the Poetry Ink 20 th Anniversary Anthology. He has an undergraduate degree from West Chester University, a Master’s degree from Gratz College, and teaches English in the West Chester Area School District. He has held an Advisory Board seat for West Chester University’s Writing Zones program and currently is an Advisory Board member for The Mad Poets Society, one of the Philadelphia Region’s largest poetry groups. He performs music on a regular basis with two bands and hosts a poetry series in West Chester called ”Living on Luck” for The Mad Poets Society.