Saturday, March 24, 2007

There Only Are Four Books Of Poem I Obsess Over

Rebecca Loudon's Tarantella and Radish King.

Carolyn Forché's The Angel of History.

and Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris.

The book concerns the interaction of three main groups of characters: the garden, the gardener, and God/the sky. It opens beautifully: “At the end of my suffering / there was a door. / Hear me out: …” and continues to dig deeper into themes of suffering, solace, and healing. Most of the poems in the book follow the general format of the first poem: a strong beginning drawing the reader into a contemplative cascade of words on the page, capped off by an absolute, tentative, and resonant finish:

And you, who’ve been
with a man—
after the first cries,
doesn’t joy, like fear, make no sound? (59)

This general structure of book-ending the poems with intensity is followed for about two-thirds of the poems. The others are interspersed throughout and provide rest for the reader.

The structure of the book as a whole is perfect. Glück starts with the voice of the gardener, which I took to be the poet. Then she lets the flowers speak to her. Then she responds to the flowers and in so doing raises questions of God (26). She briefly focuses back on the flowers before addressing God with an angry tirade which he doesn’t respond to until page 50. After 50, she and God go back and forth before finally the gardener admits God’s existence (62), but immediately questions him directly. The curtain call of fall’s beginning brings the book to a close (63) with her and her husband in the garden. The journey is spectacular.

The poems are often very dark, contemplative, and personal. But Glück seems to use the personification of the flowers to lessen the blow and even add humor. The matins asking the gardener why she is crying subtly addresses despair, depression, and grief. A white rose saying, “This is the earth? Then / I don’t belong here,” provides a moment of humor. The overarching themes of human despair and desperation is put into context and almost trivialized by being told from the flower’s point of view. But this causes a tension that creates powerful poems.

The point of view of each poem is distant and concrete at the same time: distant because it is contemplative, concrete because the diction is simple. She uses pronouns a lot, but never mixes up who she is addressing or talking about.

My favorite poems are the beginning and ending ones and those starting on page twenty and ending on twenty-nine. I did not like the poems “Harvest” and “Lullaby.” Also, she introduces two humans, John and Noah, in passing, and never explains why. After reading brief note about the author I believe they are her husband and son, but there is no explanation in the poems themselves. These weaknesses don’t pull the book down though.

Other than those already quoted, these lines are stunning:

… human
passion or rage: for what else
would you let drop
all you have gathered?

The flower’s point of view here is awesome. She personifies perfectly, never making it trite, never making it sound forced.


Because in our world
something is always hidden,
small and white,
small and what you call
pure, we do not grieve
as you grieve, dear
suffering master; you
are no more lost
than we are, …

The consonance of “small and white / small and what” gets me every time.


as we both know,
if you worship
one god, you only need
one enemy— …


I speak
because I am shattered.


Hush, beloved. It doesn’t matter to me
how many summers I live to return:
this one summer we have entered eternity.
I felt your two hands
bury me to release its splendor.

I can only think of one other book-closing poem that is as good as this one: “Idiot Savant Caught by Surprise in a Lonely Time” in Rebecca Loudon’s Tarantella.


I am not very well read yet though, so there are probably many more out there that I haven't discovered but will affect me as deeply. Any suggestions are very welcome.

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