Neil Aitken’s The Lost Country of Sight

I have little experience writing reviews. Do not hold this against Neil Aitken‘s The Lost Country of Sight.

Although it seems strange to me, I think I am, as a reviewer, supposed to explain what the book’s about. If you’d just read the first poem, it would be fairly clear. The poetry is about home. It’s about not being home, coming home, searching for home, settling for home when home is not home, the implications of home and not-home on your identity.

Even the longing and the confusion are beautiful in Neil’s work.

From “I Dream My Father on the Shore”:

And when night comes, it comes without a tread, without a word.

From “After Neruda”:

When you press it to your lips,
you can still taste the unwashed salt of sorrow.

From “Gift”:

There is always cold at my heels, the tall ships
of thunder, small men with seeds. This is my gift.
This storm I bequeath to the acres of graves,
the bent necks of reeds, trees I remember.
More than color, I leave rain on doorsteps.

One of the things I admire most about Neil’s poetry are the details. Each poem has a similar silence, a quiet or a tone that I will now always associate with Neil’s writing, but the details in each are discrete, tangible, clear, differentiated so the book does not give the effect of being one long piece split up occasionally. From “My Father as Landscape”:

But I am not a forest. I am a road cutting through its midst.
I am what the mountain yields, the path through tall shadows
of pines and maples. I am the line that stitches the earth, my body
an unending arc of stone and gravel. I am the eye, the sight, the sign
at the edge of a ravine before the drop to nothing. I am the steel rail
on which you lean, the cross, and the wild flower burning against the dark.

Near the end, Neil takes on Jose Marti’s quotation “I have two countries, Cuba and the night”: “In me, there are as many countries as names.” Furthermore:

If there are three, there must be a fourth.
I will find it in your skin. Hear it resonate in your bones.
A ringing echo. Something of sound. It will be small.
Almost a hut. A thatched roof shack in the wilderness.
A hermitage for two. A boat in a river. Almost a home.

The book is now available for purchase on the Anhinga Press website, for USD15.