Between Dusk and Night, by Emily McGiffin
Reviewed by Lori A. May
In Emily McGiffin’s textured collection, Between Dusk and Night, we are challenged to find meaningful connection between humanity and nature, a renewed respect between Human and Earth.
There is a weighty loneliness to these poems. McGiffin’s speaker drifts in and out of her own life, and in and out of remote landscapes and riversides, searching for immediate and long-term purpose. Quirks of the human mind and an observation of human behavior intertwine in a kaleidoscope of listlessness; in “Setting Out,” the subject reaches her breaking point and distances herself from the physical and mental chain that has been weighing her down — all the while admitting her escape is likely the first of many, as we so seldom outrun ourselves.
This search for meaning, the hunt for satiation of desire and want is explored in “As Air.” The first two stanzas express the desire for personal peace, the longing for freedom within the prison of skin, the weight of being human:
If you could know how I crave
the state that is almost
McGiffin delights with her use of white space and imagery combined to create a tantalizing visual on the page. Too, with precise enjambment, the poet shifts meaning from one verse to the next. As an example, in “Wokkpash,” the poet brings to life the isolation of driving along a barren highway and the uncertainty the day brings:
…there is no one
here. Tomorrow does not exist.
The overall tone of the collection sees McGiffin feverishly trying to connect us humans with our Earth and open sky. In “Note on Astronomy,” vastness is observed and noted alongside our insignificance and inability to truly consume the life around us:
It’s what we’ve hoped for:
a means of converting the deep cold dark
to a friendly giant….
Mixed in with succinct verse is the hybridization of poetry-meets-prose; in “Insects in Lamplight after Rain,” paragraphs and dialogue unfold unexpectedly into a six-page narrative. Yet the reader needn’t be jolted from the absence of verse; McGiffin eloquently employs her poetic technique and emphasis on language throughout this sojourn, pushing form and bridging genres.
Language is, indeed, the heart of McGiffin’s delivery. In “After a Journey,” the poet examines what is spoken outside of human language, again connecting Earth with her people:
There is a language roots write through the soil;
you’ve begun to learn it, pressing your ear
night after night to the earth
until their words are almost of your body
after so much conspiring with your sleeping bones.
Subjects fade in and out of dusk, fog, and orderly existence. As readers, we navigate the terrain laid out for us, consumed in its labyrinth of realities, ever-reminded of our insignificance as humans, but comforted by our shared loneliness and the ever-present guardianship of Earth.
Between Dusk and Night exposes the vulnerability of humankind and explores our miniscule presence amid natural wonder. While the poems speak to our isolation amid one another, and indeed from the living things around us, there is a comforting resolution suggested, buried beneath loose grains of earth if only we seek to uncover it. While McGiffin paints humankind as disconnected and ever-seeking companionship, in this collection nature is personified and wildlife comes to speak, guide, and influence strangers in their paths, “unseen but sharing, for a small time, the same journey.”