Salmon Poetry, 2002 (ISBN 1903392241)
In his second collection (after Death and the River), poet Ron Houchin taps into a current running through the A.M. hours in equal parts insomnia and fascination. With Moveable Darkness, Houchin depicts the cerebral world discovered in black of night with equal vividness as the visual musculature moving the afternoons. For example, in "After hours," he describes himself as "a patron locked/ in the museum of my body," writing:
The flattest part of night,
I stroll through stone and canvas
brows, lips, wrists, and breasts
that stare and try to speak.
That sort of inward reflection fills much of Moveable Darkness. However, it can be contrasted in almost every instance to the colorful life and death of more tangible and visual scenes, as in "Flowers waiting to burn":
The two orchids in the patio pond
know something is wrong.
Black and yellow flames dance in
pond water light.
Delicate blossoms shine, pink and ivory,
amid angered sun and darkness.
. . .
But these flowers burn in two fires
Houchin successfully navigates the murky channel between image and idea. His writing swims at times to a great depth, while at other times he glides across the surface like a skier. At his best, Houchin achieves both of these effects at once as he does in the poem "Blue": There was no blue in Helen's hair ribbons,
and none of the skies over Troy
carried enough colour to notice.
No blue in the Red Sea
as Moses lifted his arms,
nor in any eyes of King David's wives.
These poems also harbor a seriousness and austerity that makes them hard to ignore. One can imagine Wallace Stevens reading these poems in his slow, precise, meditative tone. Houchin's poems, in fact, recall the work of Stevens more than that by contemporary writers. He uses them to meditate and imagine. They reveal the world outside the window and then they reveal the window, too. They contemplate meaning as readily as appearance, then say goodbye to both with long, resigned sighs.
Moveable Darkness also is a visually magnificent book. A lake-and-moon portrait by Ariyan cloaks the cover in rich purple, pastel blue, black and white, with a nebulous figure on a boat pulling moonlight in a bucket from the water. The physical book is like Houchin's poems in that way: a vivid portrait without and a different world full of ideas within.
Recommendation: This is a book worth having on shelves, coffee tables, night stands. Moveable Darkness sings with the severity of oarsmen lashed to their oars, wailing for their journey that never seems to end. Take the ride. See where it leads you. The places you go more than make up for the fare.