Here’s another post for Upper Rubber Boot Books' Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour from Lynn Domina, the author of two collections of poetry, Corporal Works and Framed in Silence, and the editor of a collection of essays, Poets on the Psalms. She lives in the western Catskill region of New York.
I love making lists. Lists make me feel organized and accomplished—at least until they get so long that I’m overwhelmed. And I also like list poems—they’re so full, so abundant. Except when they’re not—there are times, after all, when a list is just a list no matter how dogmatically we insist it’s literature. The first poet who comes to my mind when I want to provide an example of an effective catalog is Walt Whitman (some of whose catalogs can also be, let’s face it, tedious).
I taught several poems by Whitman in my Introduction to Poetry course a couple of weeks ago. My students responded to his work with some enthusiasm and a whole lot of resistance. My own responses to his work are similar—the sections I love I really love, but there are other sections when I want to say, ok, got it. When I think of Whitman, the first line that comes to mind is “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” Like many readers, I find section six of Song of Myself absolutely stunning.
Whitman puts the question that prompts the poem into the mouth of a child: “What is the grass?” Then he answers the question with progressively moving possibilities. Aside from “the beautiful uncut hair of graves,” my favorite lines are
This is post #9. Every day for the entire duration of the National Poetry Month, I will try to post short write-ups about poetry books that I like.
Let's take a look at John Sibley Williams' mesmerizing From Colder Climates.
From Colder Climates
Publisher: Folded Word Press
To buy from Amazon
This is definitely a must-buy.
My initial reading of the powerful first poem “Confessional Hymns” reminded me of Frank Bidart’s “Curse.” That magically acerbic “empathy-curse” of Bidart is a suitable complement to the equally magical serenity-invocation (curse?) in “Confessional Hymns.” And “Confessional Hymns” is only the first piece.
All of the poems in this book revolve around desolation and the occasional stirrings of hope by a narrator in the arctic region (Iceland is specified in many of the poems). Where I live there are no seasonal changes, only alternating sun and rain, so poems that talk about the seasons rarely give me pause. Seasonal poems never deeply appealed to me until now. Williams makes me see winter beyond what I observe in movies, television, and books.
Winter, in Williams terms, is more than just ice, more than just the monotonous and endless white of snow and snow-blanketed ground. In poem after poem, Williams rouses with new ways of looking at icy landscapes.
Here’s a truncated section from “Winter.”
Fish are captured by the inertia of ice. I watch in vain
for a glimpse of life, a flittering gill or darting eye.
I watch and find they even sleep like me,
under masses of covers, dreaming of movement.
And in the air I can only hear the birdless wind cry...
...By the time it finally reaches my ear,
I too feel birdless.
This passage from “Manners of Distortion” succinctly describes this lovely book.
I’ve learned the instruments of winter
and that ice distorts reflection
while those elegant ripples signaling rebirth
distort in a different manner.
Imagine a man who is lost and allows himself to remain lost. Imagine a man who screams in the middle of an icy wasteland -- wailing not to be rescued but to point out the marvelous spectacle of what’s beneath the cold. From Colder Climates seeks warmth, and how it finds it...
Meditations of a Beast
Age of Blight
A Roomful of Machines
We Bury the Landscape