Blood Mountain

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

The rhythms of nature and the rhythms of language struggle in Blood Mountain, John Engel’s third collection of poems. Engels was not afraid to use dark visions as the center of his two previous collections, The Homer Mitchell Place and Signals from the Safety Coffin, just as he is not afraid to use bold rhythms that resound deeply and echo off the face of Blood Mountain.

Echoes and after-images are important in this work. It is not what one man actually sees but what a blind man thinks he sees that is crucial, as seen in “Dawn on Blood Mountain”:

I am blind.I know you by touchingyour face. You are blind.My fingers coverwhere your eyes might be.Your hair is brightto my hand. Try not to see.What is there to see?I turn to godown? I ama contriver.You know.

Blindness, dreams, and remembrances make up the subjects of the twenty-one poems in Blood Mountain. Six poems are “Blood Mountain” poems by name; the others are not linked to Blood Mountain by geography but by a similarity of voice and rhythm. All the poems carry out the idea presented in the epigraph:

It is how I try to tell youThere are no imbalances: we standAt whatever center mostemploys us.

“At the Top of Blood Mountain,” the central poem in the book both physically and spiritually, employs the senses as a means of describing a trip to the top of a mountain; seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching, are linked to the concept of thinking in the organization of the poem. This parallel rhetoric, a dangerous device in a poem, is used smoothly and effectively by Engels. The ascent of the mountain takes place in the physical world of linear time, but as the narrator depicts the center of the mountain, time begins to flow in erratic patterns similar to the unusual rhythms of the poem, whose line lengths break the natural rhythm of the poem just as the narrator breaks the natural rhythm of Blood Mountain’s peak by trying to describe it. The narrator finally understands that language is a contrivance, but a necessary contrivance if one is not only to find the exact center of the mountain, but also to discover the center within himself.

There is an unnamed “you” in the “Blood Mountain” poems to whom the descriptions and the account of the search for the center of the mountain, are directed. This unnamed character, a woman, is a casual link in the narrator’s life. In the poem “Falling on Blood Mountain,” where she slips and falls (“the shock of your fall/unfolding into the root/of Blood Mountain . . .”) she becomes the center of the narrator’s consciousness, the recipient of his romantic contriving, the focus of his dreams. Sometimes the woman is addressed directly in the second person, the main character of a particular poem; sometimes she is alluded to as merely a force in the narrator’s life. She is able to manipulate the narrator’s physical world in the same fashion that the mountain manipulates his relationship to the natural world.

In the second poem in the book, “A May Snowstorm” a dream becomes a way of extending the length of mortal life, a...

(The entire section is 1526 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

Booklist. LXXIV, September 15, 1977, p. 130.

Hudson Review. XXX, Winter, 1977-1978, p. 581.