Fault Lines by Tim Hunt
Reviewed by EVAN BURTON
The Backwaters Press, 2009
Light, water, and memory form the leitmotif of Tim Hunt’s Fault Lines. Materials so insistently suggestive could not fail to reveal the shape of the poet’ s interest. Light reflects off and penetrates water; memory performs the same operations on history.
All the poems in the collection are in some way physical and acutely dependent on that physicality. For example, in “Language”, received meaning is “ ...not the letters/marching/the matted white/of the page ”but “broken bits of shell/that mark the tide.” And in “Plate Glass,” a suburbanized, once rustic landscape becomes a canvas for a meditation on an impoverished childhood. Hunt frequently employs in a poem what is extant as a filter for what is extinct, leaving behind, predictably, the difference between the two.
Though his concerns are tightly coupled with the natural world, the poet manages to sidestep any parroting of the Romantics. He doesn't bemoan what is lain waste in getting and spending. Nor does he take pause at a field of daffodils. Through reliable variation, he achieves some originality.
Hunt’s landscape is usually either rugged, depression-era California, or the modern and slightly less rugged same. His human subjects are typically humble monuments to survival as a triumph over past struggles. And even if poem is observed in the present, it is inseparable from the author’s historical memory. Yet, the two (past and present) can never have a material reconciliation. In the collection’s title poem, Hunt confronts this dilemma, writing:
Though the poems don’t move very much outside this theme, what they lack in
scope is accommodated in cohesion. Consider these lines from “Canned Tuna”:
We are within familiar boundaries, but the poem continues and offers a kind of
Intellectually, those lines fit nicely between wholeness and dislocation. Though past and present are insuperably parted, there’s profit in making the leap, anyway. We might discover that what is “ordinary as...canned tuna” will inevitably seem distant, and perhaps alien one day. Our reflections give body to our history––and a vivid dignity to our present.
The poems “Red Light,” and “Listening to Art Tatum Play Piano” offer, respectively, a variation and a departure from the poet’s typical concern. The first occurs at a red light in Salt Lake, Utah. The speaker watches a Native American and a cowboy huffing glue in a parking lot, as they “hug and shuffle the uneven/ circle of the West they’ ve won.” The poem points at a connection between conquest and drugged stupefaction: Imperialism gets everybody wasted. However, some of the color in this sentiment is muddied because of Hunt’s description of his subjects:
The “war lance” and the cowboy’s hard draw from the hip take modern subjects and reduce them to unfortunately static caricatures.
More dynamically, "Listening” puts two lovers on Art Tatum's keyboard. He, the desirous right hand that “skips up the stairs,” and she, the uncertain left that “shifts from foot to foot,” are locked in “...a dialogue/ improbable as a Hollywood romance.” Extending the musical metaphor, this poem is a welcome note outside the register of the rest.
Readers looking for metrical histrionics won’t find them in Hunt’s collection. Though the lines are neatly measured and without any serious gaffes, they are unadorned and grounded in utility, like a pair of Levi’s––which, incidentally, are the subject of one poem in the book. At points, Fault Lines suffers with generic, almost worn images, like a “shadow that speaks of night,” stars that are “fireflies flickering in the trees,” or the earlier mentioned Native American, “as high as the clouds drift.”
However, the above observations are formal concerns; it is equally important to consider of what the poems are made, not just how. Hunt visits the reader with a powerful insight through the idea that the fissures in our lives, the separations, the differences in feeling, past and present action are rich minerals to mine for meaning. If in the process of mining, Hunt dug up some anachronisms, left a few edgeless lines, or struck the same spot twice, then that’ s probably part of the work.
EVAN BURTON is a brooklyn-based writer. A Cave Canem fellow, and a graduate of the MFA program at the City College of New York, he is composing a collection of poems reproducing apocryphal nude portraits of First Ladies. His work appears in Gigantic Sequins and The Promethean.
Each time we see that wholeness
is a history of dislocation
and want again a place to stand
as if we have stood there always.
Does it matter that canned salmon was cheap
when he was a boy? It was what you ate, night after night
when the butcher cut off credit but the grocer
kept you going––that, beans, out-of-season venison,
whatever was left from the summer canning.
Such differences are obvious, but they were then
as much the ordinary as the canned tuna on toast
the end of the month when I was a boy––not signs
of making do. What was. That’ s the trick––to read
He leans back, spinning
from the lamppost, a war lance,
as high as the clouds drift.
Then the cowboy, skinny in a Levi jacket
and pointed boots, takes his hit––
drawing the jug from the hip
quick, hard like a gun.