Dawn’s Fool by Kyla Houbolt / IceFloe Press / 2020
Kyla Houbolt’s debut microchap, Dawn’s Fool, portrays nature with reverence and the act of communing. This may be no surprise to those of us who know Kyla as The Greenway Poet, who has featured her own poems as well as words by others in an inspired natural space where she walks. Many of those posted works deal specifically with the synthesis of natural surroundings, but many also address human nature. Kyla’s poems on The Greenway have often been met with delight by others; at other times she has been faced with removal of the poems, finding them in the trash. Her reaction, regardless, is to keep sharing poems.
It’s not necessary to know this bit of backstory in order to read and relate to Dawn’s Fool. In my own experience, however, I found this chapbook enhanced by the knowledge that when she walks The Greenway or in nature, Kyla walks alongside poetry, and vice versa. This information informs many of these poems — especially the opener, “Turtle Law,” which speaks to us directly:
I want you to hear
these words from my mouth
but all I have
are marks on a page
made of trees.
In poems such as “What Only the Earth Remembers,” we are immediately met with the sort of connection to the natural world the author hones: “A body sinks/into a pool…/The body is mine/as I join the stone…” and from there the stone becomes personified. It sings, has sung, it has a heart that is “…not dead…/but full of a story…” Similarly, the keen eye for earthly-detail-come-to-life can be found in other poems such as “Getting Around,” wherein stray items on the ground “…seem to say/wait for the day/waves touch the sky.” How often we miss these small details as daily life zips by, but how fortunate we are to have these poems reminding us that greenery and objects and scenery in the everyday have shape, color, meaning.
The poem “For This Burning World” remarks on what’s missing or has been damaged in nature. “[M]arshes seethe,/…forbs blaze up,/…forests fall to fiery ground…” and the author longs to have “waterfeet” in order to continue walking alongside nature even as it experiences harm or lack. The poem is bookended by a first and final stanza that expresses how the poet will continue to walk in the outdoors, in the rain or shine of it, and shows empathy to even the more tragic aspects.
In “The Gondolier” there is such a gorgeous evening scene with sunlight and singing but a very curious endnote where “…water/has carried [the gondolier] well,/and knows, being water/more than it tells.” That last line gives way to goosebumps and questions. What would the water say if it could speak? Thought-provoking moments like these punctuate how Kyla can not only write nature as an ideal setting, but can also consider the nature… of nature.
I enjoyed the levity of the poem “Tease” so much. There is a scene set and then a boy and “his sisters in the goat cart” are having a conversation near the ocean about a plant. Much teasing ensues and dialogue of the children is fun and pure. Then to throw in a bit of a twist, we are treated to dialogue of the goat and also the ocean! Once again the reader is shown a side of nature that is human and even tongue-and-cheek.
The title poem is magical. Kyla writes about the earliest hints of morning and sees how “…day reveals/its sacred flaws” while a mourning dove is more than just a “foolish bird” and is actually life conjuring instincts that were here long before us. Despite the quotidian routine of the bird, it acts as a bringer of peace and hope. Again, the author shows us treasures hiding in the world at which we may only periodically glance.
Eleven poems appear in Dawn’s Fool, a wholly enjoyable wake-up call to nature and a collection so memorable in its awareness. IceFloe Press was a perfect publishing imprint to bring this book to its own tangible state. Robert Frede Kenter, publisher at IceFloe, provided the drawings for Dawn’s Fool, with nature illustrations peppered among the nature-centric words presented by Houbolt. “Not the End” is a prosaic (but also poetic) moment on which to complete the book; it leaves you with a reminder that Kyla’s attuned care and concern and writing for and about and inspired by nature is not just a one-time theme for a book. Her message of how life exists in more than just human form and breathes life of its own is one she is continually exploring.