On the landscape of time, place, history, and romance.
Apr 3, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 27 • By WYATT PRUNTY
All of these poems have the element of contest about them, if we retain the Latin sense of contestari, to call to witness. That is, the witnessing of art is the subject here, as "Little Boats, Unsalvaged," Smith's title poem, makes clear: "Like a child I still climb in and wait to be lifted, flood tide cycling / in tiny waves that swell, take us unaware, the sprawl and soothe / of reed bed, wake bubbling anticipation, all we loved. This. Now." Contest means the lines of games, furrows of a field, mortality and the choice to give oneself to something more than self. Here the contest is by lines of poetry, each "turn" to "return," as Smith's "Plowman" puts it, made from worlds that meet in memory and desire. This poem, which concludes the volume, is an important one to know.
As Wagner did with music, the poets reviewed here skip short arias for a less formal art that is more speech-based than melodic, more inclusive than distilled. The goal is amplitude, a gathering of particulars that is shaped certainly but also extensive, living in local time and place yet large enough to range from agape to Eros--and back.
Wyatt Prunty, Carlton professor of English at the University of the South, is director of the Sewanee Writers' Conference and the author, most recently, of Unarmed and Dangerous: New and Selected Poems.