Online Edition: Summer 2007

The Radish King by Rebecca Loudon

Radish King

Rebecca Loudon

Ravenna Press ($13.95)

by Rebecca Weaver

“Maculate stony / spalls mapping her thrash,” in the poem “Vacuuming the House of God,” portends other dark and rhythmic passages in Rebecca Loudon’s new poetry collection, Radish King. Loudon’s language works with a sense of mystical urgency; in places, these poems are deeply personal at the same time that they are archetypically relevant, offering an interior (but not exclusively private) sense of how the world looks through the eyes of this poet. But vision is not the only and primary sense here—this poet also wants to blindfold you, turn you, and walk you onto a boat to leave you sitting there, rocking and smelling the ocean. Faceless men will interfere or help in your doings, and you will have sharp metal, fur, and animals placed in your hands. Jesus appears a few times as raconteur and whiny bother. 

“It” and “this” are characters that constantly empty out, deflecting any permanent meaning the reader may want to attach to them, becoming ciphers for the language they bracket. In “Refusing water,” the speaker begins with what seems a calm and narrative voice, giving what reads like a case history. Then (and this “then” recurs throughout the collection) it gets weird: two more husbands appear, children do or do not exist, houses suffer and stand crookedly. Loudon takes the traditional mode of storytelling common in poetry and turns and twists and doubles it back on itself, then wrings it out.

Formally, these move from traditionally shaped stanzas to prose poems to small, sparse verses that don’t shy away from large content. But Radish King doesn’t have to crow about its formal innovation or tight structure. As Loudon is a musician, it makes sense that she is disinclined to prioritize anything higher than sound and language in poetry.  The poems here simultaneously frustrate and compel with the internal and sometimes isolated singularity of Loudon’s vision, but it’s a frustration that can pay off when readers realize that poetry like this is an antidote to frequent flare-ups of irritable reaching after fact and reason.