Here's another "five-minute book review"; I have piles of books I'm supposed to review on this blog, but very little time in which to do it. So, I'll set my timer for 5 minutes every now and then, write my first thoughts about the book, and share them with you. Enjoy!
The Shadow of Sirius by W. S. Merwin
This is Merwin’s newest volume of poetry. As part of the “Where are we now” series, I’ve been asking poets who their favorite poets are, and reading works by both my interviewees and the poets they consistently recommend. To that end, I’ve read poems, chapbooks, and full-length books by Kelly Cherry, Ned Balbo, Barbara Crooker, and Heather Thomas. Several interviewees recommended Merwin.
So I read him all through my amazing NYC trip a few weeks ago: on the bus, on the train, in Barnes & Noble, in Starbucks. Then I continued reading him at home, at the hair salon, at school. It was slow going. Slower than I expected. I discuss this in an upcoming piece for Curator--I’ll link there when it’s published—but this particular book presented an astonishing challenge: There’s no punctuation. Not one period, semicolon, or even comma in the entire book. And I’m disappointed to find my poetry-reading power weak enough that that was a huge distraction. I found the poems, and the accumulation of them, exhausting. They have to be read slowly, out loud, over and over again to be understood.
And that’s fine. Poetry ought to take a lot of time. But I get the sense that these poems are really, really, really good; so I wanted to be able to appreciate them.
And finally, I started to. I read them over and over and over, and then started to sink in. They’re beautiful. They’re powerful. They’re important. The book as a whole is beautiful, powerful, and important. Merwin has that blessed talent to simultaneously see Nature and see through Nature to significance. The poems are soft, but without anything saccharine. They’re careful and graceful at once. They all seem wreathed in gray. My only concern is how quickly they will fade from my memory.
My favorites in this volume include:
“Far Along in the Story”
”Youth of Grass” (really clear and perfect!)
“One of the Butterflies” (encapsulates the book, I think)
“Lake Shore in Half Light”