This book of long poems/poem series by Joe Safdie begins with a section called “Retirement” which sounds boring but isn’t because it poses interesting questions of the existential mode and ends with a section called “Yachats” as in Yachats, Oregon. There’s also an interesting section about Hermes; the wheel figures in all of these inroads to his personal mythology, poetic studies, and creative expression in the form of messages from the trail and to the trail.
Overland, the people offered land at no cost needed to dump a lot of stuff on their journeys West but it seems that Safdie shows us what he’s kept, collected.
Safdie tells us a thing or two or three or four. He is sitting around the ‘ole campfire spinning yarns; he is also a camera or a lens of a microscope that looks into past/present/history/future with a basket full of findings modern and ancient and everything in between.
Safdie tells us where he’s been in his life. From “The Invisible Enemy”:
I thought that was death
putting me on notice
but it had a larger audience
in mind, to be everyone’s
enemy, killing by what’s
known but not seen,
the sensitive spots—
This book is enjoyable because it is so dense with found material and phrases, making it a poetry of such staggering depth that it does feel like a ride on something at once land-bound but also dreamy and useful as a raft to float across rivers and streams, much like the prairie schooners that overran the country. Even their ruts can still be seen where the grass has not grown back. To study these poetic documents with Safdie is an engrossingly epic and jolting ride. You may choose to walk alongside it for a few miles and then jump back in.
The Oregon Trail by Joe Safdie. Spuyten Duyvil, 2021.
Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her newest book is Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast, available from Finishing Line Press. She was a recent volunteer for the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project.
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