Review of Baysville
From Mary Dalton , Books in Canada, December 1993

Signs of the Tar Baby


For John Donlan, the instructed heart arises from “that part of our nature that exists independent of civilization, or even conscious thought.”  Baysville, writes Donlan, is “partly an encrypted autobiography.”  The first three lines of the opening poem might be taken as a statement of Donlan’s project:

To be a meaning generator like that red bush,
artifice without taking thought, awareness
of mystery under your clothes.


Like John Ashbery, Donlan defeats narrative and thwarts logic through disconnected images.  One is reminded of Andre Breton in his 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism: “Put your trust in the inexhaustible nature of the murmur.”  Through Donlan’s skill with musical phrasing, line, and image., these seemingly haphazard observations embody the findings of contemporary physics: reality as particle flow within a field of probability.  Donlan is the bird for those who dismiss contemporary poetry that does not enact flux in some such fashion:

Say goodbye to the monument
losing its bearings in the rush of sensation:
a birds bursts from its mouth, scattering a new sound
along the river.

                                    (“Play Dead”)

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