Diana Hope Tegenkamp’s debut book of poetry, Girl running, is a fascinating collection filled with vivid language and startling images that invites us to reflect on sudden disappearances, tender daily connections and spectral appearances which haunt and reveal.
The poet divides the collection into six sections: Spectra, Arterial, Each Breath an Oar, Quarry, Fata Morgana and The Speed of Passing. In the first section, Tegenkamp refers to “the tenacity of light.” They’ve seen it “slant through tree branch and windowpane/ onto living room wall—”. (3)
Light and truth come at us at an angle and reveal objects only in fragments. The poet is showing us that we glimpse life in fractions, that like Dickinson’s ‘tell all the truth but tell it slant,’ we can only grasp trauma and mortality in bits or else be overwhelmed.
What do we see but glimpses of our lives, moments found in spectral shapes before they disappear? And how do we interpret these shapes, these images to satisfy our grief of wanting to know, and of our longing to find order and harmony?
In the poem ‘Little Winters,’ Tegenkamp describes Tegenkamp’s mother seeing images in ice; “Look, my mother says, look, /pointing at their abstract shapes/strangely branching.” (10) In the same poem, the poet compares our reaction to mortality, how we have ‘This tendency to freeze/in the face of mortality, /day/suddenly folding in on itself, /for seven minutes, /those soldiers, held in limbo/ slack-jawed/beneath a solar eclipse, 585 BC.” (11) Through the centuries, humankind’s reaction to mortality remains the same. In this case Tegenkamp travels through time to Asia Minor where we find that the warring soldiers have laid down their weapons and declared a truce. The reference here is an indication that we as humans surrender to the truth no matter when or where, that we must face our mortality, that life is fleeting. The mother wants her daughter to experience what she sees before the image disappears and becomes lost. That certain image will not pass this way again.
This thought is continued, with Tegenkamp’s father, in a “green Pontiac/ carrying him north over highways and gravel roads,” chasing dreams. (28) Tegenkamp tries to connect with him by using images created from stories told to the poet. Tegenkamp relates his wanting to keep in touch with his own mother; “He gathered theses smallest parts of her/inside him. To cry might release them, /so he drank, a reverse river/ of grief that kept her close.” (29) By following such a drastic move, he hopes to hold onto the times he had with his mother. But life for him is chaotic and short; time does not stand still for him nor for anyone.
In Fata Morgana, Tegenkamp stresses this point. Like Morgana, who is said to have created a mirage between Italy and Sicily, life is like a mirage, briefly seen before it disappears. We “exist in time/ when small gestures from dreams/ materialize in the day/ like tufts of wool caught on a fence”. (87)
In the section titled, Quarry, under the portion ‘my Beloved/ History,’ ‘Beloved’ is stroked out, Tegenkamp shows us the changing appearance of language with the blocking of words. Tegenkamp uses torn pieces of a text to represent the tip of the iceberg that struck the Titanic. We see by this demonstration that language is transitory, that we can experience change in language in the same way life changed when the iceberg struck the ship. Change can be sudden and irreversible. Can we find harmony and order in the changes? Looking below surfaces, by exploring and digging, we can find new meaning. Past history cannot be changed but we can observe it, reflect on it, change our perspectives and change future history, “hopeful/you will /never //regret /the/time/spent.” (75)
Besides reminding us how fleeting life is, Tegenkamp also reminds us that the girl running is all of us, and in the time of running, the girl and the poet give us glimpses that can be rewarding, among them, in a camera shot, “buoyant shadow-shaped lung / exhaling a star-point bloom”, in a mother saying, “Try for balance,” in “a green Pontiac.” (3, 21, 28)
These and other observations are but a few of the many sightings of lives lived and lost to shadows. Further readings can only bring more revelations which will intensify and solidify Tegenkamp as a poet to be recognized and admired.
by Diana Hope Tegenkamp
Thistledown Press, 2021, 118 p.p., $24.95
Mary Barnes is a writer living in Wasaga Beach, Ontario.