Ocular Proof

reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Ronk has written numerous poetry books, essays, and a memoir, and pays very close attention to what she looks at and at looking itself. She thinks a lot about photographs and takes the reader along with her in her thought process. The title of this new poetry book comes from Othello telling Iago that he needs something stronger than hearsay, and you couldn’t find a better symbol of how wrong one’s judgment can be. (Nothing proves anything but what we already knew.) Ronk is letting us know that what fascinates her is that while photographs seem to be reality itself—ocular proof—they are instead only themselves: paper, matte or gloss, and patterns of shadows. The language in Ocular Proof is cryptic. The poet includes many quotes by historical cultural figures regarding photographs; the quotes are placed at the base of pages, unexplored, offering the patina for this kind of conversation. Ronk tells us how she uses ogling to enter into an interesting trance. The poem “Take #2” begins, “Does staring into the black and white contours of a photo / enable a rapprochement with the unreality of one’s own life,” (no question mark ever appears, so the does is yes, it does). In “Rapture” she explodes for ten long lines and then ends with this magical turn: “I pretend to look at the hawk and it seems a good idea given the circumstances / so I make myself do it and after a time it is all I want to do all afternoon.” Again, she takes us with her, and the reader is glad to go, though it takes some patience and a willingness to gawk.

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This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall–Winter 2016.