We are a public forum committed to collective reasoning and the imagination of a more just world. Join today to help us keep the discussion of ideas free and open to everyone, and enjoy member benefits like our quarterly books.
Transfer of Qualities
by Martha Ronk
Omnidawn Publishing, $17.95 (paper)
Part museum study, part lyric essay, Martha Ronk’s Transfer of Qualities is concerned with illusions of ownership and permanence, a useful inquiry in our age of comfortable material detritus. Ronk is a precise poet, and the collection opens with a series of prose poems dedicated to discrete objects handled so carefully that they seem to return our gaze. A gap in the sky between branches forms a “zigzag pattern across the ground, the one leafless twig glowing in the black half, the other darkly outlined in the white half, the way we are marked by our gestures.” While the poem ostensibly describes a meeting of lovers, it also suggests the bestowal of life in an impending divine touch. In the collection’s only lineated poem, ceramic containers are described as “handmade wrap-arounds for air.” These objects retain the marks of their creators; they pretend solidity yet bear witness to their own fragility. The collection temporarily falters in the didactic, prosy, and earnestly philosophical middle section, but it regains some of its virtuosity in a later series of portraits, including the stirring “Rauschenberg”: “The whole of the past may be longed for in its wholeness, but it only reappears in such fragments, reincarnated in the stoop of her shoulder as she leans over to talk to someone.” These poems remind us that Ronk is a gifted imagist and that her work is strongest when she allows those images to carry her thinking.
Benjamin Landry is a 2014–2015 Research Associate in Creative Writing at Oberlin College and the author of Particle and Wave (University of Chicago, 2014), as well as poems in Kenyon Review Online and Guernica.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.
Philosopher William MacAskill contends that humanity’s long-term survival matters more than preventing short-term suffering and death. His arguments are shaky.
In her new book, Danish poet Olga Ravn writes with open love, pity, and compassion for her strange yet familiar creations.
Draconian individual punishment distracts from systemic change and reinforces the cruelest and most racist system of incarceration on the planet.