Review: Depending on the Weather by Abigail Keegan

Abigail Keegan read at OBU last week to a nearly full house (the front row was left empty in true Baptist fashion).  I thought I’d post a few thoughts on her new book, Depending on the Weather (2011 Village Books Press), in case you haven’t gotten a copy yet.
Keegan begins the poem, “On Earth,” which closes the book, with the statement, “Here on earth everything happens.”  This statement, besides being obvious in the way that only exquisite poetry can be obvious (pointing us toward a world we don’t know we know), serves as a fine introduction to Keegan’s work, a body of poetry in which, indeed, seemingly everything happens.  This book contains accounts of journeys far and near, gardens planted and pruned, loves sustained and lost.  But, more importantly, in a poem by Abigail Keegan, one encounters a fine awareness of the physicality of what happens.  For instance, in “The Grateful Dead” she hears the insistent demands of the dead not as disembodied voices but as manifested in the objects they have left behind: “There’s not a piece of furniture / they haven’t worn with their touch, / few books without their notes.”  This is a poetry of the material world – the only world we know well – and her poems help us know it better.  She is a poet of vivid images and straight-forward emotional impact. In the powerfully affecting poem, “Frostbite,” for instance, she begins with a precisely painted picture of a city shut down for a snow day – “bananas / disappeared from grocery shelves” – and then moves on to a chilling reflection on how the cancelation of school can lead to increased cases of child abuse, before pleading for a return to ignorance that the courage and candor of her own poem refuses to grant:
                        Go on with the weather report,
                        with cold we prepare for,
                        cold we share, cold we can talk about
                        when it comes to an end.

She is not always that serious. Her work is often imaginative and playful, but it is also lyrical, meditative, and honest.  Above all, Keegan’s poems seem aimed, as she says of the birds in her long poem, “Birding,” to “Teach us to accept the world as it goes.”