Volume 10 (Fall 2015)

Ruth Danon's third collection of poems, Limitless Tiny Boats is a mature, important book marked by the honesty and lyricism of the poems within it. These are poems as secrets, "I have not said this before," whispered across the quiet against "the loneliness / of disembarking, arriving at night, way too / late in a shadowed town and no one / there– glad and waiting."  

Throughout the three sections that comprise the book, the poems are concerned with the question of silence "I did not say it.  But it is true" and accuracy "I did not say this exactly." The poems are in the process of discovering how to account for experience without falsifying the record. As well, the speaker here is an urgent voice compelled to explore the contradictions between the known – love, the body, pain – and "that great stretch of water still to cross." These poems are rich in metaphors – the house, boat, and water – used as symbols of transience, of the body, of the construction of meaning and the seeking for the means to speak that meaning. As the speaker says, "Words are the only boat I have." These motifs reappear throughout the collection where, like boats in a harbor, poems bump against poems and rock gently in the created waves.  

The central sequence in the book is a series of poems about the mythological though contemporized figure of Echo, for whom "What tells her / she lives / as more than / longing / is what comes / back / as speech."  Again though, the difficulty of accuracy of expression is mirrored “ull Òas speech fractured in air."   This series of poems is also a poignant reflection on the loss of the body, "that before she was stone she was flesh." The poems are marked by a yearning for the wholeness of the physical and material worlds, to be a body again instead of something "easily confused with steam or smoke or clouds."

The powerful third section of the book, titled Code Blue, develops the theme of the body and the numerous ways it can hold loss as the poems explore illness and the battle to move beyond it. In poems marked by a great candor and directness, illness, fear, shame, and survival center upon the image of a bag attached to the body. As in the first section of the book, there is the question of interpretation, "I hate the bag" the speaker says and is answered "we love the bag because it keeps you alive." In these final poems, what the reader realizes is that the body will speak its secrets if only the author is willing. In this quiet yet also fierce, beautiful work, what is "tiny" is also deeply affecting and, in a book as good as this one, limitless in its scope.

     –Suzanne Parker


Short-shot Review:

Limitless Tiny Boat by Ruth Danon (BlazeVOX, 2015)