DIARY OF THE ONE SWELLING SEA, Jill McCabe Johnson. MoonPath Press, P.O. Box 445, Tillamook, OR 27142, 2013, 55 pages, $16, paper, http://MoonPathPress.com.

Jack Hill, reviewing Jill McCabe Johnson’s Diary of the One Swelling Sea for Prairie Schooner, described it as “a wrenching reminder of why the sea must be loved, cherished, and protected.” I agree.

As I read, I kept thinking of this passage from Rilke’s The Duino Elegies:

Perhaps we are here only to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window—
at most: column, tower….But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely that the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing.”

–Rainer Maria Rilke, “Ninth Elegy” (trans. Stephen Mitchell)

McCabe Johnson lives on Orcas Island, in the San Juans, and, in these poems, we have so much naming. Some of the terminology was familiar to me: driftwood, coral, plankton, barnacle and shark. But much was not, and the poems introduced to my mind’s eye a whole world of creatures: monkey cups, kelee shad, brackenmuck, gillraker, ulve-weeds, black-tailed godwits. (My mind’s eye and my Google Search, I should say.) The names don’t obscure the poems but animate them. Lia Purpura describes them as “entries in a daybook, bejeweled moments, cries from the heart” (back cover).

My favorites among the poems let us glimpse the observer, too, as we see here: [Note: I struggled to get the format to work, and couldn’t. My new practice is to move it from a Word document, but it didn’t work this time—thus, the snapshot.]

To learn more about McCabe Johnson, visit her webpage: https://jillmccabejohnson.com/index.html. In brief, she has four books of poetry, including Tangled in Vow & Beseech, which was a finalist for the Sally Albiso Award and will be released by MoonPath Press this year.

image from iStock

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