In the searching, extended meditations of her fourth collection, Gregerson (Waterborne) draws relationships between disparate subjects and historical periods with masterful assurance, trying to head off the dizzying sensation of loss or perhaps to prolong its effects. Often, the desire for divine reassurance is tempered by a cerebral wryness in response to witnessing desperation and suffering firsthand. In a poem about September 11, Gregerson writes, "There are/ principles at work, no doubt:/ beholding a world of harm, the mind/ will apprehend some bringer-of-harm"; intellectualization artfully circumvents uncontrolled emotional response. Gregerson's elastic line lengths and flexible stanza structures figure her poetic access to recent and remote events and people, which are interwoven to create a fabric that can withstand the present. Gregerson self-consciously strives toward an understanding of universal order she knows she can never have: "The world so rarely/ let's us in." The poems are strongest when Gregerson's local, natural world becomes a portal to the metaphysical, and poems on mythological subjects and other artists are at times less moving. But at her best, Gregerson's compass points surely through a landscape in which "what was/ the future—cinnabar, saffron, marigold,/ quince—becomes the past." (Mar.)
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The energy driving Gregerson's syncopated, witty, yet tensile poetry derives from the friction between conversational litheness and intellectual weight. The author of three previous poetry collections, as well as a treatise on Spenser and Milton, English professor Gregerson teaches Renaissance literature as well as creative writing, and translates her scholarly interests into lyrical expression with grace and selectivity. Not that Gregerson isn't sharply attuned to the world around her. Nature is the touchstone, and she writes with fresh perception about its many splendors. Art is also a catalyst. Reflections on works by the Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz yield the lines: "the world you have to live in is / the world that you have made." Gregerson writes with sensual exactitude about the curious meeting of minds human and avian in the art of falconry, and religious conundrums surface often. In "De Magnete," Gregerson riffs on historic sources while contemplating attraction, exploration, mutability, and the theme addressed throughout this intricately latticed and laced collection: the ways art and science mediate our perception of the world. Donna Seaman
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