Short Review of Flow
28 June 2007 |
With Flow, National Book Award-nominated author Beth Kephart gives the Schuylkill River a voice, a memory, an irascible sensibility. In 76 narrative poems and nearly as many straightforward historical essays, Kephart describes several hundred years with the city’s most intimate and engaging river, and in doing so, turns in a finely-tuned work on loss and wanting.
Kephart’s well-researched essays provide historical nuance, ultimately placing her work alongside Gary Nash’s First City and Steve Conn’s Metropolitan Philadelphia as a prescient contemporary account of the city’s history. But it is the narrative poetry, in the taut female voice of the river, which makes this a book to descend into, slowly, with all senses at the ready. In a passage titled “Temptation,” the river says: “What you have not considered is this: My senses are not yours. My eyes are also my thousand water ears. I do not touch; I feel.”
Kephart is a master not only of descriptive memory, but of constructing an existential vocabulary. Thus the river is born, becomes aware, is besieged, comes to terms with abuse, half-wishes to be abandoned, and nearly loses hope. “When they gush me on,” she writes, “when they yank me off, I am slivered into tears. I die of boredom in their buckets.” Kephart reminds us that our souls as Philadelphians — as humans — are reflected onto the world we inhabit, and vice versa. When one is sick, so is the other. When one cries out, the other weeps, even if there is no sound.
Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River
By Beth Kephart Temple University Press, 120 pp., $23