Review: “Blueshifting” by Heather Kamins

Heather Kamins’s collection Blueshifting (published by Upper Rubber Boot Books) is bookended by the title poem, “Blueshifting” and its counterpart “Redshifting”.  For those who don’t know, these titles refer to the visual equivalents of the “Doppler Effect”: just as the pitch of a train horn will shift, depending on whether the train is headed towards or away from the listener, so the colour of objects such as stars will shift towards the blue spectrum or the red spectrum.  You don’t need to know this to appreciate the poems in this collection, but scientific language, as well as images of light and darkness, provides a unifying theme throughout.

“You Are What You Eat” begins with a quote from astrophysicist Carl Sagan, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”  The poem is an over-literal enactment of this: the narrator talks of “eating stars/like rainbow sprinkles/on pastry” and “meteors like oranges“.  This is an amusing conceit, illustrating the interconnectedness of everything.  It feels counterintuitive: surely the narrator has been eating “rainbow sprinkles” that are made from stars.  This is, of course, the point: if everything is made out of everything else, we could as well be eating stars or meteors as fruit or confectionary. Ultimately, once the point is made, the poem has little else to say.

More successful is “Insomnia”, a poem that details sights and sounds of a sleepless night.  The reference to “nightbirds with their ceaseless polyphony” will be familiar to anyone who has struggled to sleep.  The poem is successful in recreating the strangeness of the daytime environment experienced at night.  In the final lines the focus shifts to the narrator’s partner oblivious “beneath the quilt“, before finishing with the plaintive cry “How can I sleep?  How can I sleep/in a world of such things?

Kamins’s poetry eschews rhyme schemes and regular metrical patterns, but most of the poems use stanzas to create a sense of form. The two exceptions “Making Time” and “Prevailing Winds” are single paragraph prose-poems.  “Making Time” is the more effective of the two.  The lack of an organising pattern suits this meditation on the nature of time.  The repeated line “I’ve been meaning to…” could be organised into couplets as other poems in the collection are, but scattered, apparently at random, throughout the paragraph, they enact the varying perceptions sensations of time as we experience it.

There is much to ponder in this collection.  The recurring scientific imagery is used to make observations about our relationships to each other, the natural world and the universe as a whole.  These themes are poetic staples, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing new to say about them.  In particular, the scientific theme helps dissolve the artificial divide between science and art.  There is nothing new about this–many of the poems here are reminiscent of TS Eliot–but this is still fruitful territory.  Nevertheless, there is ultimately something slightly unsatisfactory about the collection.  The poems entertain and intrigue, but leave little aftertaste.

Blueshifting is published by Upper Rubber Boot Books, and can be found on Amazon.

*

Having spent most of his twenties trying to be a musician Jason Jawando was finally forced to give up and get a proper job.  He began writing fiction and poetry in his early thirties and has been published in a number of print and online publications.