Supernaturally Natural: Sean Howard’s local calls

Welcome everyone to the launch – and celebration – of the publication by Cape Breton University Press of Sean Howard’s first and certainly not last book of poems, local calls.

‘tideline diary’, the serial poem that opens local calls, is a delicate and deceptively simple exercise in juxtaposition: scenes of tradition and change, the organic and the synthetic, survival and death, human and other. In a sense, all reducible to the natural and supernatural.

References and instances of music and musical instruments provide room to pause and ponder amid the relentless kaleidoscopic action. Music, as any church choir can prove, is perhaps the closest thing to a bridge between the natural and supernatural.

When a poem is read aloud – which we’ll have the pleasure of witnessing tonight – poetry and music can become indistinguishable from one another: in both poetry and music we may find a certain cadence [the poem’s pitch and rhythm] and metre [the poem’s beat or tempo]. Both poetry and music trade in sound and silence.

Even the structure of the ‘tideline diary’ oscillates between a harmony and a dissonance of the natural and supernatural. In the play of repetition and surprise; and the way the words, though forever fixed to the page, nonetheless ebb and flow, transforming the page into a moving, living thing.

It is at this point one might wonder whether the poet is trying to capture nature in verse: the way we are often told the scientist does with his or her theorem; or the way art is sometimes said to mirror life.

This would be a mistake. Sean’s poetry neither pictures nature, nor does it attempt to capture, hold, or encapsulate it. Instead, these poems are a reverent enactment of the world. (Or worlds: the natural, supernatural, and often brutally unnatural encountered on Main-à-Dieu beach and elsewhere.)

With this realization we are jolted into a profound questioning of our taken-for-granted prosaic picture of the world: namely, the world’s reducibility to the animate and inanimate; the object and subject; the world and words; the literal and the metaphorical; the natural and supernatural of which I’ve been speaking. It is prose – not poetry – that captures and holds – and thus is anathema to – life.

Sean’s project is not only concerned with a reconstruction of us, but with a reconstruction of poetry itself. If this is nature poetry, it is not about bringing nature out in language — but about bringing the nature back to language.

“Music from the stone,” as the ‘tideline diary’ for July 18th, 2007 puts it.