In his seventh collection, Air, Waters, Places, Bin Ramke injects solemn grandeur into the fractured arteries of his densely erudite poems. Named after Hippocrates’ famous text that first claimed diseases were caused by the environment rather than the willful hands of gods, Bin Ramke’s book ruminates on the natural elements and asks whether they bear relation to language and civic order. “I noticed the sunlight slanted against the bark of trees/the texture complex and the implications astounding/the boiling of biology along each limb a sculptural announcing.” Ramke observes with kaleidoscopic intensity, inspecting nature’s exoskeleton for clues of spiritual comprehension.
“Watery,” one of the most breathtaking poems in the collection, begins with a spare section about a river and birds. The poem asks us if it is possible to strip and purify water of all its contexts, to imagine it without “figure or fable.” From there, the image of water shifts from the natural world to the urban as it is siphoned into a city’s “hoses & drainpipes gutters storm drains city streets fountains,” to a personal moment where his father is teaching him how to measure chemical acids and bases: “there are many/sources of light few of water forty years before a father/loved me in our conspiracy of clarity huddled watching the color change, the light shining through the tube.” Seeing the natural world through an epistemological and poetic lens, Ramke dissects societal obsession with clarity and without fully answering, wonders if the natural world can yield to a diagnosis of the human condition and most particularly, human grief.
Bin Ramke’s poetry is difficult. It challenges us to scrutinize laterally and to actively engage with his assembled quotes, which fuse seamlessly with his own quietly astonishing cosmology. Not only does he blend texts from Saint Ursula, the poet Lois Zukofvsky, and Empedocles, but his poems are often fractured, bicolumnar—and each poem scrolls on for pages, its tone rising and swelling with orchestral elegance.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 25, 2001