Michael Tolkien

  To Be In The Same World      (Worple Press)

(Publ in Ambit 196, Spring 2009)  


  Dufault is perhaps one of America’s most important and undervalued writers.  His visionary perspectives can ch

allenge facile or blinkered assumptions in a frank, yet freely digressive discourse which echoes the naturalistic teachings of Emerson and Whitman, flavoured with Frostian stoicism and dialectics. He demands concentrated reading. His weighty if not unwieldy book divides into two contrasting sections: the first is a treasury of object lessons from present and retrospective correlated experience of the natural and human worlds; the second is a series of scathing reflections on a corrupt political and financial establishment. Here the well-rooted, hard-bitten pioneer of the first part stalks about on rhetorical stilts. His verse becomes inaccessibly allusive or abstract, longer pieces drag, pithier ones are dry or flat.  A problem for me is that the psychology behind what’s criticised is analysed in abstruse verse while particular episodes are presented separately and without clear connection to the defined malaise. A reminder that diatribe seldom rivals the more detached and integrated modes of fiction or drama in castigating vice and folly. This comment on the Enron scandal is barbed, quirky journalism, but does not probe the underlying mindset.

…recommended civilian procedure

is to live life as usual. Fine.

I can do both--been doing it

all my days--like any other

prey-species normally horrified

at the Big Predators…Enron

for example, aided by God

and sharp lawyers, cornering the market

on job-lots of electricity

and getting drunk on the profits

some clown overloads a circuit, un-

fortunately cooking the books--at

which the top brass takes a bonus, down-

sizes five thousand of us, de-

faults on all pensions

(locked into Enron stock),

declares bankruptcy

and applies to the US government

for relief…

  The first part of the book is more vibrant. Its ruminative poems begin with arresting depictions of natural phenomena. Ted Hughes praised the way these capture such encounters and yet retain the vitality of the objects observed. They are triggers for what seem to be lengthy digressions: a rangy and profound process once you accept it. In ‘Thoughts Among Willows’ the ‘ambivalence’ of the waterside tree ‘belonging…/ neither to water altogether, nor to air’ develops into glances at, even a monologue from, the mermaid with her varied associations. A fine balance between commentary and startling imagery opens up twilight borderlands between truth and fiction, legend and fact.

   At his best Dufault persuades us not to rely on what we think we know.



Peter Kane Dufault