The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

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Brendan Galvin’s “Fog Township,” a stichic, forty-three-line poem, meditates on contending forces in the world—hot and cold, moist and dry, human and inanimate, to name a few—yet at the same time recognizes the interconnectedness of things. “Fog Township” observes the subtle interplay of what is often called the Apollonian (human-made) and the Dionysian (natural) worlds and discovers a tension vibrating always within the “delicate time” of the first line.

The poem is in three movements of almost identical length. The first is an objective description of the natural world, winter turning to spring, and the uncertainty of those days as hot and cold collide and fog is the real and figurative result. It obscures the knowledge of where people will go next. “Cathedral/ and Round Hills” stand out, not only because they rise above the fog to become “high islands” but also because they are human-named places in this otherwise Dionysian world. Humans tend to gravitate toward what they have made, according to Galvin.

Part 2, which begins after the caesura in line 14, introduces the “I” persona, who seeks to read the “message/ tapped on twigs out there.” The “out there” is very important, ultimately, because it represents “the other,” the Dionysian world. As are so many things in this poem, the term is repeated in line 40, reinforcing the separation of the human-made and the natural.

Part 3 begins after the caesura in line 29. Here the reader is introduced to the very Romantic notion that concludes the poem. A personified Nature, gendered feminine, is introduced as the speaker “imagine[s] her.” Imagination is the key idea that drove Romanticism and is here revitalized in a woman who, “crouched on/ a stump” and “hair wet,” has been, one realizes, knitting “April back together” throughout the entire poem. More important, readers learn that the persona has participated in this scene in his mind, has resisted nature’s invitation to come out into the fog, and has chosen, because of “lethargy,” to remain apart, to avoid the otherness of “out there.” Humans have, he hints, separated themselves from the natural world forever.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 645

Subtlety is a hallmark of Galvin’s work. Whether it is form, language, or theme, the “how” of his poems is always much more difficult to discern than the “what.” He prefers a plainspoken, direct approach to his meanings while deftly using poetic and linguistic devices to shape and manipulate sounds and meanings. Among the many devices at work here, the use of vowels, alliteration, and rhyme are some of the most useful for understanding the inner workings of the poem.

Part 1, the objective description of the fog and its effect on the landscape, is dominated by round, open vowels that seem to suggest the grand openness of nature itself. The letters o, a, and u predominate. There is nothing pinched or thinly pitched in this world where “fog/ rides into the hollows,” and “Brooks/[churn] back/ into their beds.” One irony here—irony often occurs in Galvin’s poems because of clashes between what is said and how it is said—is that while visability is diminished by fog and “cloud shadows,” the open vowels open the world even as it is being compressed and limited. When the senses are challenged, the poem reminds us, the imagination takes over.

As part 1 draws to a close, the alliteration of part two is hinted at in line 13. “Landscape’s lightest” echoes the numerous alliterations of the next fourteen lines. The letters t, c, s, and d are all closely and distantly repeated. One suspects that the “message/ tapped on twigs” would sound like this, a seductive collection of noises hinting at words that can never quite be interpreted, like the clicks and squeals of dolphins or an alien tongue. Humans listen but are finally frustrated.

Part 3 combines the open vowels of part 1 and the alliteration of part 2. It brings the “out there” and the “I” together, even as it makes it abundantly clear that “out there” and “I” are not, have not been for a long time, and never will be together. Even as people long for communication with “the other” in the “out there,” the poem reminds readers that they have been responsible for creating even greater distances among humans and the rest of the creatures of the world. With an imagination, people can live vicariously without having to overcome “lethargy” and actually engage the world. Ironies abound. As humans reach out to a receding world, attempt to offer their own round, open vowels to it and tap out their own alliterative love letter to nature, they are constantly and clumsily moving farther away from one another.

There is no rhyme scheme here, but like the other two devices discussed, there are hints and echoes at work. Just as the poem uses knitting as a metaphor for nature “pulling/ April back together,” so the rhymes loosely stitch the three parts together. Galvin’s touch is light; he never uses devices, poetic or linguistic, to bludgeon the reader. More often than not, devices must be sought out to be seen at all. In the end, they are there to whisper and gently guide the reader through complexities of language and thought. Not to be dismissed, they are a way to play with language.

In part 1 these three half rhymes appear: “spill” in line 2; “Cathedral” in line 5; and “trickle” in line 9. These do not form a pattern, but they are close enough to each other to qualify as rhymes. The poem waits thirteen lines for the sound to repeat, as it does in “simple” in line 22. By then it is a mere echo, recalling faintly the earlier l sounds and pulling part 2 gently back toward part 1. Then, just as part 3 begins, the rhyme appears again in “needles”; part 3 also contains a rhyming sound from earlier in the poem. Thus, just like vowels and alliteration, rhyme assists in the “knitting up/ cable and chain to bind/ the acres.”