Martin Booth Robert S. Haller - Essay

Robert S. Haller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The poems [in The Knotting Sequence] are made up of short lines, reminiscent of haiku …, but the spirit is distinctly Western. A spare diction expresses the mythic consciousness of present-day poets on both sides of the Atlantic, the attempt to find in landscape and daily activities signs of communion with a past still alive and determinate of the present. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that poetry creates the past and brings to life the roots in the ground. The "Guide to the Metaphysical Anatomy of Cnot, son of Kings, Lord and Worshipper" speaks of "winter elms'/shadows cast/by a/full November/moon/the lines/of Cnot's/palms upon/the roadway … no smell/or touch//these few/I'll lend/to you,//forefather Cnot." Such powers as the founder of the village can have are given him by those who see and feel the place as he did.

So brought to life, Cnot's relations with the poet are not always amicable: Booth apologizes (for plantings, trimmings and plowings) and complains (of a twisted lane which still follows a path to avoid Cnot's hovel). And neither Cnot nor his poet settle into a quiet pastoral life: there was bloodshed in Saxon times, and blood shed by hunters in the present. (p. 291)

This dialogue between Cnot and his poet even takes place over the Atlantic. Booth writes to Cnot from New York that he is in "the promised land" where "the houses pile/into the clouds//the cars are/gold and red." Even the sirens weep out sound, and the streets are known to breathe. "ah! says/Cnot, cynic//now tell/me you've/met/god." (p. 292)

Robert S. Haller, "Polishing the Sherds," in Prairie Schooner (© 1978 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), Fall, 1978, pp. 291-92.