A Big Little Book
Ken Belford’s Internodes (Talonbooks, 2013) is about 13 by 20 cm and light enough to mail cheaply across the continent. It rests easily in the hand. In it are poems that are spry organisms assembled from the language of body, land and politics. An internode is the part of the plant between nodes, where leaves emerge, and is where changes in a plant’s growth pattern occur. It is part of how plants think.
The traditional tools of poetry, narrative and image are displaced and dispersed as Belford creates a highly harmonic moment of listening. His poems thrum in response to texts, media and the land itself. Because the poems don’t run on description or story per se, they function as deft turns of thought—the reader must be nimble to follow on these seldom-used paths.
One of the first pieces in the book (Belford doesn’t title each poem, instead they each read as a part of a series) twines three vines of language: plant behaviour (“sprigs and sprouts and internodes and twigs”) with power dynamics of family and gender (“the illusions of the fathers”) with animal studies (“I see animals differently”). The three come together to reveal how they are interrelated and to form a (temporary) whole vision of a new way of looking at the world.
There are many strands of knowledge in the book: plant and animal relations, power structures, media and health. One of the most prevalent is a recurring address, a call out to men to become self-aware and to forgo the traditional masculine values that create violence and oppression. Belford writes: “men are the privileged signifiers / who manipulate the language” and “too many men believe what they / say are the laws of reality.”
As a whole, Belford’s book resists conventional thinking as it applies to gender, land use and animal abuse, but he writes in a way that also resists conventional forms of writing that have helped create those ills. It is the pretty image and the good story that have produced the unsustainable context we are in and Belford writes his way out of that tradition and into a new, fluid and uncertain poetic path.
Using the forms of plant growth, Belford’s writing sends tendrils and rootlets toward healing light and nutrients: “but now I grow / through gaps and veer away from competition.”