Blueshifting is a physics phenomenon – the Doppler effect applied to light: if the source of the light is approaching, the light waves get scrunched together so they have a shorter wavelength (higher frequency) which shifts them to the blue end of the colour spectrum. Redshifting is the opposite; it happens when the source of the light is receding. Please do not assume that I know what I’m talking about. I merely mention these phenomena because they frame a poetry chapbook by Heather Kamins.
While I’m leery of making too much of the all-powerful governing metaphor, there is a correspondence between the idea of blueshifting and the feel of these poems. Blueshifting (the phenomenon) involves a passivity – it assumes an observer who sits and does nothing while stars approach or drift away. Blueshifting (the poetry chapbook) also involves a kind of passivity: “The world / wheels toward the inevitable.” The sun rises and sets. Time advances. Meanwhile we sit and watch it happen.
With poem titles like Making Time, Devolution, Entropy, Relativity, Dark Matter, and with an epigraph from Carl Sagan, and references to Mastodons, petroglyphs and quantum states, one might expect to find a collection of science-nerd poems. But science itself has changed (and maybe rescued poetry in the process). We don’t live in a deterministic universe of Newtonian mechanics. Yes, “The world / wheels toward the inevitable”. But we live in a universe of unobservable observations and strange attractions. The path to the inevitable is not fixed.
One twist in the path, which maybe defies scientific analysis even more than love, is humour. Kamins keeps the all-powerful governing metaphor at bay with a gentle sense of humour and genuine wit. Eggcorns, for example, is a funny poem of malapropisms. And Devolution inverts our expectations by sentimentalizing garbage and smog and expressing indignation at the threat of an encroaching nature. And my favourite of the collection – Headspace – lulls us into a saccharine state of mind, sitting next to grandmother, perhaps on a farm, learning how to make jams or preserves the old-fashioned way, until we discover that this is a case of “borrowed nostalgia” and our narrator is, in fact, in a classroom making it all up.
Could this be a comment on the way poetry gets made? In the sometimes vitriolic debate about the merit of MFA programs, maybe one side of the debate rests on a case of “borrowed nostalgia”, projecting the good old days when poetry was a rustic pleasure passed on to us by our grandparents. Maybe this is Kamins poking gentle fun at the whole debate. And with beautifully crafted poems in a tight, cohesive collection like this, we’ll grant her that indulgence.