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The Possible Past

by Aislinn Hunter

Poetry should be a clear expression of mixed feelings, as W.H. Auden said. Aislinn Hunter’s latest collection follows that theory. In The Possible Past, Hunter touches on complex and often contradictory ideas and emotions often tackled by only the most philosophical writers. Filled with poignant detail and innovative metaphors, these poems act as condensed “eureka!” moments applicable to anyone thirsty for self-discovery.

More often than not, Hunter raises the question: What is this world? The subjects are never pedestrian, instead focusing on unusual clues to humanity’s mystery. In “Gorilla Cages, Dublin Zoo,” a woman repeatedly taps her umbrella against a gorilla cage enclosure. Hunter asks: “What kind of loneliness/brings a person/to do that?” An archived interview with a 19th-century child worker provokes poetic footnotes on a broken mind and body, “back bent into a hook,/I am all question.”

The poetry is cloaked in a sheen of wonder that never degenerates into cliché, as if Hunter discovers truths and beauty along with the reader. The journey offers more than daydreams: probed memories squeeze out drops of introspection that begin to map the human experience. While not all the poems touch on the universal, the majority describe epiphanies too important to ignore. Hunter understands the need to break barriers, noting how we want to leave our skin “like an old coat the edge of a lake,/and formless, dive in.”

In the latter half of The Possible Past, Hunter takes “ordinary moments cut from time” and ushers them into poems that expand on what great minds have debated for centuries. Citing Homer, Goethe, and Pascal, Hunter adds depth to pieces that sometimes repeat a previous poem’s message.

The Possible Past falters with a few poems that read more like shopping lists than revelations. And while all the poems project vivid imagery, some references fly over the head of the average reader, as in “the boat comes once each season/like a ghost across Haro Strait.”

Finishing this collection is like ending an all-night conversation with friends who enjoy dissecting life’s many riddles. The Possible Past leaves an aftertaste of satisfaction for attempting to tackle hefty ideas, leaving the door open to expand on what the poetry initiated.