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Walking Into A Still Life Painting:
M. Travis Lane's A Tent, A Lantern, An Empty Bowl

A Tent, A Lantern, An Empty Bowl by M. Travis Lane
M. Travis Lane, A Tent, A Lantern, An Empty Bowl
Windsor: Palimpsest Press, 2019.

You’ll notice, as you begin reading M. Travis Lane’s seventeenth book of poems, that she is a “seer” in perhaps the truest sense of the word. She sees what is in front of her, physically, but she also sees what was there, in the past, and suggests what might be, in the future. Hers is a poetry of observation, of taking great care, and of minding and recording the small things that are really of the greatest importance in life. Here is a collection that makes you think of your own connection with the natural world, with others, with your memory, and with your loves.

A Tent, A Lantern, An Empty Bowl feels like walking into a still life painting when you read poems like “The Far End,” where she writes of

pinpoint flowers
dark as the sea on the horizon’s edge,
a purple brown, not blue—
a sombre amethyst.

Here, colour is specifically defined and described. In “Painting by Naomi Jackson,” Lane writes of how blue

means good dreams, an easy sleep
deciphering the hard day’s reds
into the flow of loveliness,
the lease
release of time.

Blue is not just a simple colour, but rather the reflective doorway into a hard day of emotions that feel more harsh, like the colour red. Lane does for poetry what Mary Pratt did for painting. The reader can see this in “The Sunday Painters,” when the poet writes about how “a drying tangerine / and a browned banana fail / to look like art on a bright green plate.” She documents the beauty of life in her phrasings, lines, and stanzas.

There are poems, too, that speak of longing, of wishing for things to be as they once were, or at the very least for things to be less dramatically altered by the passage of time. In poems like “We Are Not Wholly Soluble,” a core question is posed: “Is that the soul? // Or is the soul the life we share?” Another key question, posed in “Walking Alone,” might be “Is home, then, where we had started from, / or is it here, / in the journeying?” These are the things the reader most often thinks about when reading Lane’s work. There is the loss you can feel in the second part of “One, Two, Three,” when she writes

But “two” can be subtracted from.
It was, it was—
and I go on, not “two,”
no longer “us.”

In “In The Courtyard Of The Music Store,” she tells us that “everything that matters: dance, the game, / requires the constant lending / of our hands.” Life, she says in everything she writes, is about how our stories are woven.

A close reading of Lane’s A Tent, A Lantern, An Empty Bowl leads you to ponder the passage of time, how things change more quickly than you’d imagine as you age, and how our lives are valuable in the smallest of ways, if we pay careful attention to the details of beauty that we encounter each day.

Kim Fahner was the fourth poet laureate in Sudbury, Ontario (2016-18). Her fifth book of poems, These Wings, was published in Spring 2019 by Pedlar Press. Her author website is www.kimfahner.com

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