BOOK NOTES: 'Ash: Poems from Norse Mythology' by Jeff Mann

By David M. Kinchen
BOOK NOTES: 'Ash: Poems from Norse Mythology' by Jeff Mann
Jeff Mann, son of columnist Perry Mann and a teacher of creative writing at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, has just published a book of poetry, "Ash: Poems from Norse Mythology" (Rebel Satori Press, 136 pages, $13.95, available from
Jeff Mann grew up in Covington, Virginia, and Hinton, West Virginia, receiving degrees in English and forestry from West Virginia University. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in many publications, including Arts and Letters, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Willow Springs, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, Crab Orchard Review, Bloom and Appalachian Heritage. He has published three award-winning poetry chapbooks, Bliss, Mountain Fireflies and Flint Shards from Sussex; two full-length books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine and On the Tongue; two collections of personal essays, Edge: Travels of an Appalachian Leather Bear and Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South; a novella, Devoured, included in Masters of Midnight: Erotic Tales of the Vampire; a book of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; and a volume of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, which won a Lambda Literary Award. He teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia

In Ash, acclaimed poet Jeff Mann has created a haunting and intense examination of Norse mythology, extending from the creation of the universe to its end in the flames of Ragnarok. Here are many voices: All-Father Odin, bound to the World Tree; Thor, the protector of mankind and battler of monsters; Balder, the gentle god treacherously slain; Sigurd, killer of a gold-hoarding dragon; Brynhild, lovesick and vengeful Valkyrie; and Surt, the demon who burns the earth and sky to ash. Here are many worlds: a seething snake pit, a burning mead hall, an open tomb, Valhalla's vigorous feasting and lovemaking, fir forests and Nordic snows. These poems range from the speech of gods and heroes to autobiographical lyrics that use myth as an entry into eternal human concerns: love, hate, loss, death, and rebirth.   Here are a couple of poems from the book:
GNAWING   "Ash Yggdrasill | suffers anguish,
    More than men know of
— The Prose Edda   They must have heard it, there in the mead-hall, those warriors tossing back the honey-rich horns, seated along the walls, growing foolish about the fire.   Somewhere, the sea was undermining stone, the wind uprooting trees, the snow heaping over homesteads. Livestock was lost, stumbling hooves   over any inconvenient precipice.  And the warriors themselves—so many blood-feuds, funerals, axe-swift amputations.  Drunk on mead,   they left the wavering firelight and staggered into sleeping closets.  They stripped, studied their conglomerate scars   in Icelandic moonlight, fingered the first silver entropy streaking their beards. Weakening, they heard the world weakening around them.   The serpent Nidhogg gnawed the ash tree from beneath, harts nibbled the highest foliage, innumerable worms chewed the twigs.   And the tree's bole-rot even the wardens of fate could only slow, not stop.  We hear it accelerated, the gnawing, over our keyboards, our steering wheels, our bourbons. The sky's pockmarked now, a worm-eaten lavender.  Rhododendrons are shaking softly under chemical-scented rain,   and spruce ridge-tops defoliate in sulfuric blurs.  Somewhere in the coalfields, streams run bright orange, and a machine several stories high is flaying   a mountain, prying up spring-green earth the way inquisitors once peeled off the fragile parchment of a heretic's skin.

THE LAST SUMMER   Dark grows the sun, | and in summer soon
Come mighty storms: | would you know yet more?”
—“The Wise-Woman’s Prophecy,” The Poetic Edda     We took it for granted, the light, as we do whatever is daily.  Millennia after millennia,   cavalcades of gold cast over the mountaintop, the meadow grass thickening, the pale green   of barley rippling in breeze, garden plots leafy with providence, the moor bilberries,   the orchards’ early apples.  Flutes of the nightingale, you and I side by side on the knoll, shirtless, adrowse.   Flicker of the arctic poppy, the wild rose crumbling. Young men’s beards full of pollen, mouths full   of petals.  Would touch have meant even more had we known that summer would be the last?   The sun spun off, the lance was broken, the world ran out.  Light left, and then the green.   The star we loved did not come back.