The tenor of Jeffery Donaldson’s new book of poems, Slack Action, is well illustrated by its shortest poem, “With a Line from a Dream”. It reads,
A page of poetry on the table.
It is like a child bending down
and placing a hand on the earth
to find out what it weighs.
The whole collection feels like this, like a hand placed to discover the weight of things — the weight of a father lying in a hospital bed, of a mother’s long ago assurance on the way to kindergarden, of a still undetermined poetic legacy — the weight of the world.
Donaldson’s poems are less naive than the child’s hand, however. They know they cannot hope to discover the full weight of things. They have learned, what the child will learn, that we can only feel the world’s gravity, the influence that its great mass exerts on us, and the strength of these poems is in articulating the force and the space, the slack action, between us and the world.
The verse itself is beautifully measured, not constrained by metre or rhyme, but always conscious of them, working through its chosen forms rather than remaining bound by them. It has a real patience as well, a willingness to let a poem develop, to pause, even to be interrupted, if the weight and gravity of the subject should demand it, and this is how the poems of the collection need to be read, with patience, with an openness to pause and interrupt and reread. They need us to lay our hands on them and find their weight.