New Things Come into the World
The Invention of the Zero
I’m tempted to call Peter Kane Dufault a “little-known poet”—even if nowadays that’s something of a redundancy, like “commercial athletics” or “formulaic top 40.” He’s someone who doesn’t appear in most anthologies, and whose name is likely to raise a fuzzy look of semirecognition when dropped among contemporary poets. He doesn’t seem to teach anywhere, and one senses, both in his life and in his poems, an impatience with the “poetry scene” (an impatience extending, I’m afraid, to the niceties of his own books, which harbor more than their share of typos). His most recent collection, New Things Come into the World, is his fourth. The other three—Angel of Accidence (1954), For Some Stringed Instrument (1957), and On Balance (1978)—are out of print. None of the four has provided many details about the author’s life or the poem’s chronologies. But my guess is that he has been steadily writing verse for something like half a century.
“I will have to marvel,” he remarks in a poem about a cedar log. On the opposite page, contemplating a crab shell, he declares, “It’s amazing.” Later in the book, seaborne, hoping to lay eyes on a humpback whale, he says, “I came to marvel,” and, further still, “It’s wondering we live by.” In New Things Come into the World, the poet is at his best when brought up short in two senses: when transfixed by an unexpected glimpse of something beautiful and when embarked on modest-looking poems of few-syllabled lines.
Dufault is a poet of vivid landscapes. Although his poems supply few place names, the environs are unmistakably the remoter stretches of the American Northeast. His terrain rolls with hills. Winters are long and summers cool. His trees are birch and hemlock and pine. His skies are dotted with birds, with a special emphasis on raptors. The sea just over the horizon’s horizon, whose depths are “grey palisades of shuddering iron,” is the North Atlantic.
The creatures that shift and scramble through his back country are neatly and minutely rendered. He’s as fine an “animal poet” (a designation I imagine he’d wear with pride) as any American now going. Here’s a peek into the nest of a mud dauber wasp:
wrinkled as a raisin
and rigid as Pharaoh
embalmed and mummified,
the dauber’s pupa-doll
sits in its shroud or pod—
a mere seed of a thing,
a bean, cold as the wall
it crooked against, and god-
forsaken now, though Spring
comes in a week…
And a mastodon, inspired by a “child’s picture book”:
the groping divinity
that heaved that hulk,
heavy with ivory, forward
out of the black
cone forest and grey muskeg,
snows on his back.
And a collection of “small wild creatures along a road at night”:
Not to be seen…Not to be seen…
We can hardly conceive
such a curse on the light,
such a love of oblivion,…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.