Kate Hall’s certain uncertainties.

Kate Hall. The Certainty Dream (Coach House 2009).

A first book that made it onto the short list for the Griffin Prize, this is in many ways a fascinating collection. Hall is widely read, & utilizes her reading, & takes a rather ‘philosophical’ approach. Most of the poems are developed through a series of sentences that have the form of logical argument while they utterly short-circuit logic through the kind of non-rational leaps John Thompson found so intriguing in ghazals. So, ‘an alien design, illogical,’ but not without sense, for she is in love with a kind of sense that defies itself. The title poem begins, ‘The problem is coming to know in a dream.’ That’s not quite the whole line, which reveals something of her formal sense of lineation in most of these poems: long, sentences or parts thereof; & I’m not always sure that her line breaks are anything more than a way of signing that we are to take these as poems foremost. Still, they maintain interest because of the way their ‘arguments’ unfold. The end of this poem, after invoking an image of juggling, goes, ‘Briefly, everything is not a weight in hand but airborne.’ Most of the time the ‘I’ of these poems is a thinker but not in any necessary way the author; the pronoun like other parts of speech, is both ambiguous & ambivalent (except, perhaps, ‘Antelope Dream,’ which addresses the volume’s dedicatée). The short long poem, ‘Suspended in the Space of Reason: A Short Thesis,’ is exemplary, following as it does the outline of a scientific or scholarly report all the while slipping between dream & waking, philosophy & poetic meditation, & many other possible dualities. So, despite my tendency to resist verse that seems not to care that much about its formal rhythms in the open form line, I found the book quite powerful in its subversion of the very reason it seems to propagate.

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