Gently Read Literature July 2011
MARY SHIPPEE ON MATTHEW HENRIKSEN‘S ORDINARY SUN
Matthew Henriksen is not a fancy poet. At first glance. When I flipped through his book for the first time, Ordinary Sun seemed simplistic. He did not seem to be pulling any fancy John Ashberry complex, convex mirror tricks. He did not seem to be whipping up any sort of impressive metaphors, or crafting any sort of mind-blowing forms. In honesty, Henricksen even seems sort of borOrdinary Suns\, Matthew Henriksen, ing when you flip through. Then you Black Ocean, 2011 start to closely read the poems, and even at first, they seem clumsy. The book opens with a multi-page poem called ―Copse‖, and the first few pages have some awkward lines like ―another man‘s table saddens beyond bees‖. But then about twothirds of the way through ―Copse‖, you start to get it, what it is that Henriksen is doing with this collection, and then by the time you get to the last page of that first poem, you‘re amazed at how he‘s created this gentle tornado of words and lines that have swooshed you up, lightly swirled you around in its funnel, and placed you back on the ground, pleasantly unsure of what just happened, but thrilled by your impromptu flight. That‘s what marks all of Ordinary Sun: a deceptively interesting simplicity. He is able to write tragically about nature, or more specifically, our human lives which dwell inside of nature, with a clarity and poignancy that is actually shocking. Henriksen, in his second book, shows an impressively subtle mastery of lan-
guage, one that poets can only aspire to. As an example: the structure and form of his book. Henriksen uses the same form for the vast majority of his poems- each poem being a series of couplets of varying length, with the length of each being identical within the sections. The section titles themselves, some of which are actually just several page long poems, have some fairly boring seeming titles, such as ―The New Surrealism‖ or ―The Talk‖. But once one dives into the nakedly tragic world of Henriksen‘s collection, what superficially appeared as simplistic forms transforms into a brilliantly crafted canvas on which Henriksen paints his naturalistic and deceptively complex world. By making such tactful use of the space on the page, Henriksen manages to neutralize poetic space. It is likely that this 100 page collection could be squeezed onto perhaps sixty pages, but in spreading, for example, the 160 line, four part poem ―Corolla in the Midden‖ onto eleven pages, each page with about the same space filled in by couplets, he creates white space in which the reader can take in the carefully crafted lines: I can have more empathy for a dog than a child and have no empathy for you, only a disfigured grace to strike your notions to smoke until we have between us only motion, this walking, even when we are not walking.