Top positive review
11 of 14 people found this helpful
"Here is no help, no love, only the looking."
on October 14, 2012
Mark Doty, guest editor of this collection and one of my favorite writers, says in his introduction that he could just as easily have called it SEVENTY-FIVE POEMS MARK LIKES. My reaction to several of these poems is the same as I have of Mr. Doty`s. I sometimes do not understand them so it comes as no surprise to me that these are poems he has selected. (I should say, however, that I love almost every book of nonfiction Mr. Doty has published.) On the other hand, Reynolds Price, who I`m certain never graduated last in his class has said, in discussing a particular Wallace Stevens poem he found incomprehensible, that to appreciate a poem, you have to understand what it is about and that it is possible to give a prose statement of any good poem. I couldn`t agree more. And furthermore, a poem that speaks to me is one that I either send to a friend or call up and read to them: "Can you believe how beautiful this poem is?" Just like some but not all of Mr. Doty's poems-- two come to mind immediately: he has written a gorgeous poem about a community choir rehearsing for a performance of Handel's "Messiah" and another of someone painting an apartment while listening to a Handel opera if my memory does not fail me-- some of these are those I read to friends.
I particularly liked Billy Collins' "Delivery" where the delivery truck brings news of the narrator's death-- many of these poems deal with death, but then Mr. Collins has said that that is what most poems are about-- "The Gods" by Mary Jo Salter, "Dr. Samuel Adolphus Cartwright on Dissecting the White Negro, 1851" by Natasha Trethewey and "Expecting" by Kevin Young. The poem that is worth the price of this anthology, however, has to be "The Afterlife" by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. I heard Mr. Doty read this poem at a recent book festival and could not believe what I was hearing.
I dreamed I was in the afterlife, it was so crowded,
Hordes of people, everyone seeking someone, staggering
Every which way.
Who should I search for? The answer came quick: my mother.
I elbowed my way through strangers till I found her, worn,
like the day she died.
Mother, I cried, and threw my arms around her, but she
wasn't happy to see me. Her arms hung limp. Help me,
I said. You're my mother!
There are no mothers here, she said, just separate souls.
Everyone looks for their mother. I searched for mine, and found her
searching for her mother,
and so on, through the generations. Mothers, she said,
fathers, families, lovers are for the place you came from.
Here we're on our own.
Here is no help, no love, only the looking. This
is what death means, my child, this is how we pass
for the love we no longer know how to give. I shuddered
myself awake. And yet--my child, she said, my child.
Or did I only dream
that word, dream within a dream?
I sent a copy of this poem to a dear friend of mine, a lover of poetry. She responded with a brilliant analysis: "The poem is stunning, of course, and flies in the face of all we imagine heaven might be. But since this is a dream sequence, what we really learn is the narrator's fears about love and heaven and death and meeting her mother again. She imposes `my child' as a way to save herself from feeing totally alone and dejected, thinking that what she hoped would happen at death doesn't happen-- she's abandoned by her mother, God, and love is lost-- and slips in a tiny bit of hope---laced with a tinier bit of doubt as she reminds herself that the encounter was a dream. The poem's significance lies in `my child', suggesting that her mother remembers and holds some trace of love for her. After all, we rely on the enduring love of our mothers. It's a beautiful image."
I could not have said it so well.