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A Sail to Great Island (Wisconsin Poetry Series) Paperback – October 5, 2004
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"In A Sail to Great Island a sailor explores what he can learn in isolation with nature, and a landman, rooted in his bonds to family and place, works to get past the grid of his own needs in order to explore the meaning and value of his connections. The poems begin with clearly defined contexts, but they move quickly to reach beyond the local, gathering weight and momentum as they explore with wit and sympathy the widest implications of their subjects."—Carl Dennis, Felix Pollak Prize judge and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Practical Gods
“Feldman has been building extraordinary and deeply moving poems for some forty years now, and it’s high time a magnum of champagne was cracked across the bow of a new book with his name on it. Here is a master-maker who can offer us poems that dazzle us with their beauty as they ride us through everyday real, or break our heart because they are so imaginative, so true. Alan Feldman is one of the best poets in America.“—Bill Zavatsky, winner of the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize for Earthlight: Poems of André Breton
“Alan Feldman’s poems are sentimental in the best sense of the word: fully intelligent, closely attentive studies of how feeling colors and enriches experience. Inventive, vital, witty, and precise, this poet has a rare and deep allegiance to the life of the heart. Reading Feldman’s steady, funny, well-wrought poems reminds me how blind we are in the world; reading these poems I feel my fingertips being guided over the Braille.” —Tony Hoagland, author of What Narcissism Means to Me, and winner of the James Laughlin Award for Donkey Gospel
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2004 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry
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Of course Feldman sometimes wonders what drives him to such death-defying adventures, and realizes that he knows: "The sea is bigger than I am,/and I always do something to reawaken a sense of contingency."
One of the qualities which makes A Sail to Great Island such a wise and mature book is that the poet has come to understand how the contingency of life in dangerous moments at sea is really the contingency of all of our lives, all of the time.
In many instances throughout the book, poet Feldman reacts to life from that place of awareness. He's a middle-aged man now who's seen enough joy and pain to realize there's more to life than his own ego. Aware of his own quirkiness, he has learned to live with the quirkiness of others. His adventures, on land, in ponds, at sea, have made him a sweet, helpful guy, a mensch.
For instance: One day he needs solitude and escapes to a quiet pond; he's the only one there - great. Then a woman arrives with her young kid and proceeds to leave the kid in shallow but dangerous waters while she goes off for a swim. Instead of criticizing the mother for jeopardizing her child, Feldman understands the woman's need for solitude and sacrifices his own to keep a watchful eye on the kid. With characteristic empathy and humor, he addresses the muse of this ode: "Solitude,/there's only so much of you on earth to go around,/ but I don't want anyone dying on your account."
And even when his thoughts and actions are not quite so helpful or heroic, he's open to self-examination and figures out quickly what might work better. Example: It's the first day of spring in New England and Alan's driving his son Dan to temple. Dan is in his twenties and thinking of moving to Vermont, where his girl friend lives. Alan has worried over Dan all their lives. Now he can't help suggesting therapy instead of the move to Vermont. Oooops!
But later, in temple, Alan thinks it all over and - as happens frequently throughout the book - inner-voices (from beyond!) offer wise, mellifluent answers.
.... Godliness begins in humility. That said,
how does it apply? On the ride back, do I try to find
a way to persuade him, or practice the small courtesy of silence,
and give him a chance to breathe, to think? The air says,
He'll survive, even if he moves up there.
"The air says"! Yes, but you have to have learned to hear it!
Wise, mature, soulful, beautifully written, Alan Feldman's A Sail to Great Island is a great book.