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Arlene Sanders' Review of In the Dark, Soft Earth
In the Dark, Soft Earth by Frank Watson

          The brilliance of disordered magic. . . .
If you know genius when you see it, you will see it here.
A statement on the cover—the gorgeous cover— of Frank Watson’s In the Dark, Soft Earth describes his collection as “Poetry of Love, Nature, Spirituality, and Dreams". To me, this suggested praise of nature, heady language, peach-colored poppies blanketing fields. But this is not primarily that.
Under the rubrics of love, nature, spirituality, and dreams, these poems shine with brevity and graceful language, but many are raw, hard-hitting, upsetting, and frightening.
At the heart of some of the poems is a woman. She may be beautiful, the source of a man’s most profound experience in his life, his raison d’être. But he knows his fear of the woman, his dread of her power over a man:
                                I shudder before
                                the secrets she veils
                                as I drift along
                                the path to paradise
Because a woman can be cold and cruel:
                                yesterday she loved him
                                but now he’s too old;
As a visual responder to poetry, I process the language in images that come to mind as I read. If nothing comes to mind, I stop and search for something I can see. But in this book, Frank Watson does this for me. Throughout the book are nearly fifty works of art, clearly and beautifully printed, each one relating to a poem on the opposite page, so you can see them together. I love this! Some are famous paintings, others not so well-known. I wonder how he did it. Did he always allow a painting to inspire the poetry? Or was it more often the other way around?
The poem that generated the strongest reaction from me (along with my favorite painting in the book, “A Dance by the Sea” by Charles-Amable Lenoir) is titled “dance”:
                                three ladies dance—
                                a devil, an angel,
                                and the one I love
                                disordered magic
                                when our lips begin to brush—
                                how did it get this far?
                                fluttered lips—
                                she begins and ends
                                with a moan
                                pale as blue fire—
                                she draws me down
                                to her ruined town
[There is more. I felt rage—a ruined town?!—when suddenly he turned on her. However brilliant, I find this poem unnerving.]
Watson crafts his poetry with an extremely fine hand, sometimes ignoring catastrophic events and focusing on small moments between them. A tragedy is that love, “whose water path has run,” comes to an end. A woman, thus brutalized, let us say, has just been hit with this. Before her response, there is this “in-between moment”—all of us know it—when she is simply stunned:
                                she sits there
                                silent as an owl
                                with blinking eyes
How powerful this becomes when you know what happened just before it. He does not tell you what happened. It is for us to decide.
Many poems are short, tightly controlled. They may be gentle or searing. But some of the poetry swings in great arcs. In the poem titled “origins,” we find another 
“in-between” moment:
                                in the quiet
                                stirrings before
                                the world wakes
And then, in “entangled,” he swings  from a great height, where:
                                the world sails forth
                                through pond water trees
                                the branches
                                of her desire
                                entangle me
                                wherever I go
down to:
                                those eyes that flicker
                                like sunlit grass between
                                the fallen leaves
This rhythm of expansion and contraction, which appears in other poems, makes me feel swung in the air.
The poems are unforgettable—both those evoking the wonder of the dark, soft earth, and the ones that made me feel brutalized or brokenhearted.
Within Frank Watson's rare and thrilling dance of disordered magic lies even more evidence of this artist's genius.

Arlene Sanders is the author of Tiger Burning Bright (Jefferson Press, 2008), and has seen her work apear in a variety of journals, including Cairn, Cantaraville, Dos Passos Review, Edgar Literary Magazine, Georgia State University Review, Iconoclast, MacGuffin, Mindprints, New Works Review, Perigee, Pindeldyboz, Sanskrit, Slow Trains, Sound and Literary Art Book, Southern Hum, Sugar Mule, Taj Mahal Review, Terra Incognita, Tertulia Magazine, The Dublin Quarterly, Willard & Maple, and Writer's Post Journal.

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