The Return, Mike Dillon

Finishing Line Press, 2020    $14.99

Seeking silence

Mike Dillon is an outstanding haiku poet, so it’s unsurprising that the succinct and imagistic skills he displays in making best use of the short form are also evident in this pamphlet of longer poems.

The four quintains of ‘Glimpse’ provide a series of cinematic tracking shots of Americana:

Came a village of red-tiled roofs,
its bulbous church dome
black as the clouds converging
beyond roofs and woods
to shut an aperture of blue.

Moreover, the prevailing feeling within The Return is similar to haiku spirit: questing and contemplative. At its most profound, in ‘Empty Cathedral’, that sense becomes an intense religious experience, in which his physical and spiritual beings ‘sink deeper down’:

Down past the brambles of the unknowable self
into the world’s dream of a well

where the face that looks back, at last,
will not be one’s own.

This spirituality is infused with Catholicism, evident in several poems, including a fine ‘consideration’ of Giotto’s ‘St Francis Preaching to the Birds’ and a searching villanelle, ‘Childhood Vacation’, which employs the form dexterously and beautifully:

We think we know the world’s story—
its fluky hymns of darkness and daybreak.
But what of the story no one can see?

Resident as he is in the Pacific North-West, Dillon finds peace among the natural beauty of the shoreline and the woods. In both environments, as in his poeticised life in general, he seems to be seeking a silence just out of reach, bearing the influence of haiku, tanka, Chinese poetry and the likes of Snyder and Rexroth:

A full moon, wafer white, rises
from the dark mountains in the east.
The salmon leaps again.
      [‘November Beach’]

At his sparest, his poetry takes on a rare limpidity worthy of those influences. It’s tempting to quote ‘Once Again’ in full, but that would ruin the delightful surprise of its ten short but sublime lines. It seems to me that quiet, almost effortlessly-crafted poetry which asks deep questions is rather out of fashion.

Dillon, though, is a poet whose writing might provide an antidote, if required, to showier outputs in today’s overpopulated poetry world.

Matthew Paul