Ishmael on the Farm

Catalog, Collection / Monday, March 25th, 2024

Moments of ecstatic violation live on, unacknowledged, but making their claim in crippled emotion and an incessant search to master their source. Ahab had his whale, and Ishmael was taken up in the quest. Ishmael was healed by squeezing sperm and thereby learned to name “attainable felicity.” Naming is mastery. Mastery is “attainable felicity,” and the pure language of nature provides the vocabulary. 

This book tells of a journey from terror to mastery by way of farming, and how farming’s nature-shaped vocabulary of duties and rituals may heal the deepest wounds.

Two great sensibilities play out in these gorgeous, hard-hitting poems: American Transcendentalism and Literary Modernism. Kann’s unique synthesis of style and sensibility is a revelation. There is a heartfelt confession unfolding here—accumulating in a variety of forms and styles—held together by a rare and authentic voice of profound emotional honesty.

R.L. Inchausti, Ph.D.

Rage and reconciliation braid themselves through these poems that chronicle the speaker’s emergence from suppressed memories of abuse and parental obfuscation, intertwining them with the brutality and powerful obsessiveness he finds in the characters in a discarded copy of Moby Dick while working summers as a city-bred teenager on a Berkshires farm. In its pages, he finds mirrors of his own half-grasped anguish; but too, in farm life he finds consolation in the lessons of the natural world. With a lushness akin to Melville’s in its forceful metaphor and eloquent descriptions, Kann interweaves buried memories, swatches from Melville himself, and scenes of an agrarian world where brutality is sometimes necessary but never deceptive or ill-intended, and where peace also can be found.

Leslie Ullman, author of Little Soul and the Selves

I’ve always been drawn to the fire in David Kann’s work—fierce, hungry, and beautifully contained. Ishmael on the Farm operates across a sweeping emotional and physical landscape, ranging from silenced childhood trauma in New York City through teenage summers on a Berkshire farm, from the pages of Moby Dick to the redemptive power of language and writing. Here are poems that are shaped by physical labor (“simple / as cleaning a slaughterhouse with a steam hose”), that do not look away from sorrow (“Home was a closed fist / clenched around a wail”) and that exist in ecstatic connection to the living world (“peepers sing like spun foil in the dark,” “the smell of struck flint that comes before snow” ). This is a remarkable book.

Lisa Coffman, author of Likely and Less Obvious Gods

David Kann

is a retired academic and a rabid ex-New Yorker who currently lives in the Bay Area. He returned to poetry on a dare. He discovered that writing poetry helps him feel more like himself than do most activities. So, he persists.