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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Review: Without Such Absence

Without Such Absence, by Benjamin Vogt. Finishing Line Press, 2010. Review by Debrah Lechner. Poetry.

Without Such Absence is a lyrical tribute to the ecology and culture of Midwest America, to its architecture and people, an elegy to what has passed, an ode of praise for the beauty that persists into the present—whether present in photographs, in memory, or directly under your feet. It is obvious that Vogt knows where he is rooted, was meant to belong, and that alone is a rare and emotionally evocative quality.

His landscapes aren’t in need of human narration. They sing for themselves, and even when their identity has been formed or altered through a relationship with our species, they are distinct and whole in themselves. In “Lotus Lake, Minnesota”:

There on the north side where the lilies grow out

in waves one-hundred feet thick, where the shallow

bottom surfaces in spring snow, a wooden dock lurches

forward from the thicket. Its dozen slips twist, turn

away from soil and itself, so it leans like a weathered

farmhouse in a field. It doesn’t complain about

its disease, its creaks are rare, it speaks only to fish and not

to bare footsteps of little girls in lime-green swimsuits. . .

Also to be found in the book is significant meditation on the natural world and civilization (as we name these things) and how they can co-exist, can’t coexist, must coexist. Vogt’s thought about this varies, is refreshingly complex, but always filled with yearning.

In the poem “Compatible”:

Are trees and the interstates

among them? Jet planes in erratic

white cumulonimbus? Dandelions

in the cracks of city sidewalks?

And you ask day after day

what these things mean, if black is not

really white, if it can ever be,

if lack is really intense fulfillment

In “The Whale”, the subject is an Associated Press report of Vietnamese worshipping a dead whale that washed onto a sandbar and was stranded. There is much joy in Vogt’s poetry, another strength in his writing. “The Whale”, however, is melancholy, but the last lines are so memorable that I must close with them:

. . . the waves will punish

the whale until if fades into formlessness, then finally earth.

So in the end this is faith. The body giving up its reason.

Benjamin Vogt is the recipient of several fellowships and grants, Pushcart nominations in two genres, and the author of numerous poems published in multiple journals, some of which can be found in the large collection of his work Afterimage (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, forthcoming.) He is also the author of the chapbook Indelible Marks (Pudding House, 2004).

He currently lectures at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Nebraska, where he also cultivates a 2000 square foot garden filled with native grasses and plants−no small ambition to fulfill in itself.

Learn more about Benjamin Vogt at his website, which will also lead you to his gardening blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts if you have a comment or question. Without Such Absence is available for purchase at, among many other places.

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