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The Chase

Written by Keith Silver for London Magazine on no date provided

John Figueroa’s The Chase - A Collection of Poems 1941-1989, combines a sensuality fond of likening hills to breasts with Christian aestheticism. These cross-currents are at work in ‘Birth is…’, an intriguing sonnet which reverses the Shakespearean longing for progeny who might vindicate the life of their father. Its theme is the fear that ‘the spell / that dreams ourselves the final verity’ will be dashed by childbirth. Ourselves like jealous first children, we suffer a trespass upon our sense of uniqueness, a realization that we are not omnipotent. This is a candidly male poem. Its contention is that the pleasures of sex must also involve a larger commitment - openness ‘to earth, to death, to birth’ as the theme is re-echoed in ‘Our Mother is the Heavenly Jerusalem’.

‘Our Mother is the Heavenly Jerusalem’ makes moving use of the polyphonic choral patterning which is one of Figueroa’s trademarks. This collection includes the even more hypnotically elaborate structures of ‘Ignoring Hurts’ and ‘Spring Has Come’, whose force is derived from imagining them read aloud by a close-knit group. The atoning effect of these pieces stems from their participatory nature. ‘Hartlands/Heartlands’, a lengthy incantation of the names of the railway stations which have punctuated the poet’s equally lengthy, cosmopolitan life, is less successful. There is a sense of private significance not imparted and the central pun would be lost in the recital which the poem seems to demand. Wordplay can sometimes be a problem. ‘I watch the light return’ indulges in uncompromising metaphysical shennanegans of the ‘World not world but that which is nor world’ variety.

The firmness of the shape
without the shape the form
That does not need the form

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