Movement & Voice in Mara Vahratian’s “In this great wide country” with K.B. McElhatten

In Mara Vahratian’s Hicks Poetics statement, she claims her poetry is  “built around movement.”  She wants her poems “to move and stall and be expansive and subjective and feel lived-in and new.” This is a promise on which Vahratian repeatedly delivers, but especially in these opening lines from “In this great wide country:”


“In this great wide country held forth the bear dunes, glacial basins—unlocked

the flight maps magnetic and the mid-century address numbers.”


Here, like in many other lines, Vahratian creates quick movement by selecting monosyllabic and disyllabic words made of short syllables.  Vahratian also relies on assonance and consonance in word pairs to reinforce this pace: in and this;glacial and basin;  maps, magnetic, and mid-century.  At work here too, Vahratian uses the comma and dash to add movement and to stall her lines, as if to ask the reader to pause for a moment to take in the “bear dunes, glacial basins—.”   In her claim to write poems that are expansive, Vahratian selects words that make me feel the expansiveness of the Michigan landscape–great wide, held forth, bear dunes, glacial basin, unlocked, flight, magnetic.  What’s smart about this selection of words is that they don’t just point to the vastness of the setting; they also conjure a vast mood, making this poem feel legend-like—like Vahratian could tackle anything in the lines that follow.  As a result, when I read these lines, they feel fresh, exciting—as Vahratian intended, “new.”  But what I like most about these lines is that they feel “lived-in.” I know this pace. I know these stalls. I know this expansiveness.  It’s a voice familiar to my favorite writers, the Beats, who like Mara Vahratian, are wanders—“mapping thoughts as they come.”

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