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A first book of
poetry titled Pilots and Navigators could indicate an adventurous sensibility, a
youthful restlessness underpinning the poems. Unfortunately, Antony Dunns talents in
his debut fall far short of the ambition implied by his title, producing a thoroughly
pedestrian collection. Although he claims, What Im trying to talk about / is
the speeding apart of things, Dunns poems are slowed again and again by their
lethargy of language.
Through Pilots and Navigators, Dunn evinces a desire to
connect poetic language to emotion, but fails to write memorable, powerful, or compelling
poems. Some poems (Biology Lesson, Waltz, Engagement)
go nowhere because the mundanity of their subject matter is further undermined by a
mediocre facility with language. This lack of skill becomes evident in the books
many cliched and otherwise inept phrasessuddenly he is dead still,
powerful as a god, the front wheel leaves the ground // for a breathless
moment, stomach and heart mashed in clenched hold. With their couplets
and quatrains and syllabics, his poems appear well-crafted; however, with Dunn this
technique frequently results in weak line breaks and inert lines.
In his many poems about travel, Dunn succumbs to the mindset of
the tourist, carrying his preconceptions wherever he goes. Dunn would do well to direct
his efforts elsewhere, since lines such as We lose a morning to closed museums / and
then ditch the map on Yeatss doorstep are representative. The poet seems
unaware of the problem of an Englishman in Dublin complaining about such trivialities, or
talking about leaving the city with no tan, no souvenirs, but we have drunk /
Guinness within sight of the silver spring.
Dunn does stumble into the occasional luminous moment or
intriguing line (The skin-scent
/ of garlic harsh as love on your
hands, a gull trawling the tang of distant surf) but too seldom to
sustain anything like a worthwhile style or vision. He relies on the unearned epiphany, a
worn strategy of observation inevitably followed by revelation; their predictability
renders his epiphanies flaccid. Too satisfied with the bland and the mundane, even
Dunns descriptions of extraordinary behavior are presented in the language of prose:
It is easy to ascribe our madness
to the moon
but ours is not a werewolf mind. Its just
that, sometimes, we surprise ourselves like this,
so we blame gods, astrologies, toxins.
In the staid and unrealized poems in Pilots and Navigators,
Dunn exhibits little intensity or depth of imagination, a linguistic and rhythmic paucity
that contribute to the general anemia of the collection. Because Dunn has not yet begun to
serve language and the possibilities of language through poetry, these poems possess the
typical weaknesses of a first volume, but none of the vigour.