There is a certain kind of knowledge from which we have distanced ourselves. (Maybe there are many kinds, but I attend here to one in particular.) The caricatured image is the schoolchild who does not know that a hamburger patty comes from a cow, but how many of us do, or even could, supply ourselves with our own food for a year? I for one am not so far from the caricature as I ought to be.
Which alerts us to one possible atavistic role to which poetry may yet be restored, the passing-down of communal knowledge and expertise. Of this role, Rebecca Gayle Howell’s Render gives something like a foretaste, as the titles of its individual poems suggest: “How to Kill a Rooster,” “How to Build a Root Cellar,” and so on. The poems do not assume that role simply or straightforwardly (there is a lot going on in any one of the poems), but the relationship to that role makes for a viscerality to the poems that lends them force, as of an apocalypse that has happened already.
Howell, Rebecca Gayle. Render: An Apocalypse. Cleveland St. Univ. Press, 2013.