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Heavy Grace Paperback – April 1, 1996
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"Robert Cording's third collection of poems, Heavy Grace, is a luminous addition to the literature of last things, which is always rooted in the here and now. The quotidian is the subject of these quiet lyrics, and what they reveal is the steady gaze of a man determined to confront his mortal fears. This is a poet as familiar with the ways of birds as with what he calls the 'deep syntax of grief.' Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the brave spirits hovering behind this book, Cording recognizes that the 'heart cannot be comforted,' yet his stern poems offer a measure of solace, a kind of grace a way to live in the here, the now." -- Christopher Merrill
"Robert Cording's work offers a subtle but unmistakable critique of Romanticism or at least the attenuated romanticism we've known in American poetry for 30 plus years. To that extent, it may be part of a broad contemporary reaction, in which unlikely factions ('new narrative' poets, postmodern poets, even language poets) vaguely collaborate. Yet Cording's part in this general trend, supposing there to be one, involves religious vision. In an epoch whose authors are sentimental about their unbelief and about the primacy of their ungoverned selves, Cording demands a setting aside of the self, an emptying of the egoist vessel. Such an essentially humble pursuit of spiritual ends has not yet won Cording the reputation he merits. But for all that his poetry is perhaps prophetic. We may hope so, for what could we need more than a canny guide to being in the 'heavy' world with its beasts and work and birds and spouses and pain and children and joy while remaining open to all that is graceful within its quotidian bounds. . . and elsewhere?" -- Sydney Lea
Robert Cording, like R.T. Smith, is a poet with a serious interest in birds serious enough that he titled his first book Life-List. That interest continues in Heavy Grace, his third collection, which happens also to share other concerns of Smith. Both Cording's title and the book's epigraph from Psalm 150 ("I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait / and in his word do I hope") indicate the religious nature of the quest he undertakes, and the opening poems quickly place that quest in the material world. One of the finest, "Glosses," is based on early Irish monastic poems; in it Cording works (as Smith often does) from natural observation toward the spiritual. The fourth and last section is representative:
Just now a wren trumpets its triplet song.
The sun pours in. Radiance
in the wingspread of the ruby-throated
haloing the daylilies'
clean yellow, in their green stems penciled
on the light
and then restless waking, the ache
of words incomplete in their praise.
The book's cover gorgeous and almost rococo with lace, leaves, and a luminous photo of Cording's grandmother Eleanor Wenchell on her wedding day signals a theme that emerges in the second section, which contains poems devoted almost exclusively to the grandmother's death and Cording's grief. Central is "For Rex Brasher, Painter of Birds," an elegy for both Brasher (a naturalist who rendered 3,000 birds "874 more paintings that Audobon") and Eleanor Wenchell. Cording's devotion to birds and love for his grandmother come together uneasily, as praise and grief collide:
All last summer my grandmother died. At the edge
Of her bed, I read her psalms of praise for a world
Ramified without end, which could just as well be nothing.
She descended into sadness and fear. I held her chill
Hands, stroked their onion paper skin. I tried to bring
The world alive in words. Outside the swallows went
On thinking with their wings. They flashed at her window
Like shadows. She wouldn't look out. I kept wanting
What she didn't have and I couldn't give: words
That could turn her suffering to praise.
. . . -- Jeff Gundy,The Georgia Review, Fall 1997
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