Joe Rosenblatt’s The Bird in the Stillness is broken into two unmarked sections. The first and much longer section is comprised of sonnets with a clearly defined octave and sestet but without formal meter or rhyme, centring around the figure of the Green Man. The second section, only fifteen poems, takes on a variety of forms and often references Ken Kirby, a Vancouver island landscape painter to whom one of the poems is dedicated.
It is here that my biggest criticism of the book lies, in the unmarked and unsatisfying division between the two sections. The strength of the Green Man section appears primarily when the poems are read as a single entity. Individually they don’t always have much to say, but together they form an extended meditation on birth and aging, decay and fecundity, time and spirit.
This effect, however, is entirely undercut by the Ken Kirby poems at the end, which feel tacked on, interrupting the meditation of the Green Man poems with a poetry that is tangibly different in form, in style, and in sensibility. The result is that the book stumbles past its logical conclusion, changes its register for a brief time, and then merely subsides rather than finishes.
The Bird in the Stillness needs to be two books. It needs the Ken Kirby poems to be made into something separate, a chapbook maybe, with some of Kirby’s own paintings, so that they can be what they are and leave the Green Man poems to keep the strength of their unity.