The Glacier's Wake
Pleiades Press 2013
The poems in Katy Didden‘s debut The Glacier’s Wake (Pleiades Press, 2013) are civilized and dignified and so are their surfaces: sophisticated soundscapes, pitch-perfect diction, a humane voice. And in The Glacier’s Wake, we do, in fact, encounter poems that exhibit a high-level of competency as it relates to craft. And it’s certainly true that someone who devotes time and energy and improves their skills is indeed involved in a virtuous endeavor. Dedication to poetic craft, however, is not only a bulwark against vice, but almost always a sign that a poet is using craft to veil a great suffering, and I sense Katy Didden’s poems are doing exactly that. Didden’s technical abilities have less to do with a deference to tradition, but have to do with a more urgent obligation – protecting both the reader and the poet from her grave interior life, which is one of the most generous gestures a poet can make.
We flourish in her poems because the poet protects us from her. But so adamant and gigantic are the poet’s ideas and feelings, it doesn’t seem like an accident that Didden uses as her primary metaphor, as a counter-force to her crushing sensitivity, our planet’s geological history and Earth’s around-the-clock mysterious behavior, juxtaposed with her own miniscule performance in the world. Time and time again, Didden cannot help but see our lives informed and humiliated by the mindless movements of the Earth, movements we are designed to desire to understand, yet we are ultimately barred from really knowing: can we ever know what it feels like to be a glacier, a wasp, a sycamore? It’s as if The Glacier’s Wake is Didden’s pact with nature, but what would nature want with us her poems simultaneously seem to acknowledge. Nature out-performs us all the time her poems show. It lives and dies and lives again, while we modest creatures go about our lives – then gone. And despite always being present throughout the book, the natural world isn’t capable of caring for us because it doesn’t need us. All it does is hand down decrees.
But if we are destined to be both connected to and alienated from the planet’s vast environmental drama, Didden attempts to resolve this trauma by celebrating the very brute force that ignores us by employing the language of science – as if, by doing so, calling a momentary truce with indifference, or that the syntax of science is a sort of offering – but then she has a completely opposite impulse: to attack attack attack, which is to say sing sing sing with the language of poetry, which is to say the language of the heart is for Didden a sort of death for death itself.