History Here Requires Balboa
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History Here Requires Balboa takes its title from Tennyson’s footnote on Keats’s famous sonnet, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.” Tennyson was the first to note in print that Vasco Nunez de Balboa, not “stout Cortez,” was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. The poems in the chapbook explore desire–for beauty, for power, for gold, for land–and its ramifications.
“History, history! We fools, what do we know or care? History for us begins with murder and enslavement, not with discovery.” The words of William Carlos Williams could be added to the din of voices just beyond the margins of Shane Seely’s stunning suite of poems. In this riveting work, Seely restores Balboa not to the “serene air” of Keats’s Romantic simile, but to the stink and gore of history. Searching, unflinching, these poems are required reading.
In this searing work, Shane Seely explores desire’s manifestations–gilded, bloody– on a continent, looking hard at the ways in which poetry makes a monument to our failings, but also–just maybe–serves as vehicle to redirect our praise. Here is “dread/and wonder at the world transformed”; here too is its ongoing transformation. We can’t afford to look away.