Book Reviews: “How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope”, Anthology; and ‘Bluebird’, James Crews | Poetry | Seven days
Last January, Amanda Gorman’s reading during the presidential inauguration propelled her to international fame and put poetry back on the map. Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” – a poem of unwavering hope, delivered with fierce sincerity – turned out to be a message listeners around the world desperately needed.
poet and editor of Shaftsbury James crews was fashionable in Gorman’s verse long before the inauguration. His work appears in his latest anthology, How to love the world, which features a star lineup, including current American poet laureate Joy Harjo, Tracy K. Smith and Naomi Shahib Nye, as well as poets from Vermont Laura Foley, Patricia Fontaine, Marie Elder Jacobsen, Judith Chalmer, Alice Wolf Gilborn and Garret keiser.
This is not Crews’ first rodeo as an anthologist. In 2019, he edited Bridging the Gap: Poems of Kindness and Connection, an anthology of poetry designed specifically to bridge the intensifying negativity that has gripped America’s political and cultural landscape. To do this, Crews called on poets such as Ross Gay, author of Shameless Gratitude Catalog and best-selling book of essays The Book of Delights. Gay’s writing illustrates that poetry is not the exclusive domain of the melancholic: his poems celebrate moments of joy, young and old, from fig picking with strangers to the “little necessary” of Eric’s way. Garner – a black man strangled by New York City Police in 2014 – worked as a horticulturalist.
How to love the world, for which Gay wrote the preface, is essentially an entire anthology devoted to this form of witness and gratitude, which he defines as “Our radiant need. Our luminous and mycelial need.”
The opening poem, “Hope” by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, sets the tone for the chorus of voices that will follow. “Hope has holes / in its pockets. / It leaves little / traces of crumbs / so that we, / anxious, / can follow it. / The secret of hope: / he does not know / the destination . ”
In “The Once Invisible Garden”, the poet Pomfret Foley asks: “What luck or fate, instinct or grace brought me here? Heather Swan in “Rabbit” talks about “that unstoppable / excruciating tenderness everywhere”.
This flood of gratitude is rare to meet all at once, all in one place, and the effect is almost medicinal: poetry as an antidote.
As an editor and guide, Crews uses “reflective pauses” as section breaks, an innovative format that provides readers with a natural place to pause and reflect on what they have read so far. It is more than a simple visual break with poetry; Crews briefly analyzes the text and offers practical suggestions on how to integrate the messages of the poems, as in this reflection on page 125.
As Andrea Potos’ “Essential Gratitude” points out, the feeling of appreciation can come out of nowhere and pierce our hearts until we find ourselves making a complete list “in the air” of those things of all. the days we might otherwise ignore or ignore. One of the most effective practices we can adopt is to include a gratitude list as part of our journaling or writing practice in the morning or evening before bed.
Sometimes the tendency of poets to list what they are grateful for can become exhausting for some readers. Sumptuousness takes a refreshing break from the rather tortured tone of most contemporary poetry, but surely not everyone can identify with a daily cornucopia of fresh, ready-to-cook vegetables, a perfect sunset over. a loving family, a loyal dog at the bedside?
Crews is wise to include writers who reject these materialistic aspects of gratitude. Tracy K. Smith, who was US poet laureate from 2017 to 2019, writes in “The Good Life”: “When some talk about money / They talk like he’s a mysterious lover / Who’s dated to buy milk and never / Income. ” Moments like these help ground the anthology by complicating gratitude and hope with the kinds of everyday human struggles that are typically taken out of Instagram-ready curations of our lives.
Well Named, How to love the world ends on one of those nuanced notes, with a beautiful prose poem by Mark Nepo, which concludes: “Like a worm cut in half, the heart only spawns another heart. When the cut in my mind heals , I grow another spirit […] I fall. I’m getting up. I run away from you. I’m looking for you. I’m in love with the world again. ”
Crews’ latest solo book, Blue Bird, is an excellent window on the vision of the world and the aesthetics of the editor. Released during the terrifying spring of last year, this is a small volume of affirmative love poems and spiritual meditations, written long before COVID-19 invaded our lives. Always, Blue Bird looks like a determined attempt to counter the terror that then consumes us – another desperately needed antidote.
Nothing is enigmatic about Crews’ refreshing and wholesome love poems. “Heat” begins: “Words cannot capture the feel / of actually kissing you, the fit / of the lips made for each other.” Stripped of all modesty or artifice, sincerity rushes to take their place. Some readers may interpret this as a lack of complexity, but others will be grateful to come across a book of poems that they can decipher without a higher degree.
Direct and clear, many of these poems resemble notes exchanged between lovers. A first poem, “Tablet”, depicts this very image. Rather than what iPad readers might have expected to encounter, Crews describes tearing a blank sheet of paper from a notebook on the kitchen counter and finding the palimpsest of a love note her husband had left in his pants pocket for him to find.
I intended to use the paper for a grocery list
but I couldn’t force myself to spoil the surface
of what now seemed to be an artifact: I held it up
in the light of the sun and traced the places where
the tip of the pen had engraved his name at the bottom
like an ancient stylus squeezing into wet clay
the oldest love poem ever found.
In his song “Anthem”, Leonard Cohen sang “There’s a crack, a crack in everything / that’s how light comes in” – a poetic that Crews tends to reverse. Here and there, amid gratitude and affirmation, glimmers of darkness weave their way into the poems, making them some of the most satisfying moments. In “The Present” for example, the poet describes various gifts – the rustle of cattails, an old woolen blanket – before ending with the image of the face of a friend who will soon start radiotherapy: “This is the present / enough time and space / to look at her tired face / and see a child’s eyes / staring at you / through fear. ”
These moments that recognize the painful aspects of life make the rest of the book more deserved. Love poems seem to be gaining momentum after lines like “Kintsugi”: “Anyone who loves someone else / is already heartbroken. / This is the law: if you want this light / to flood your body, you have to / expose the cracks that / it is pouring through. ”
Kintsugi refers to the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with metallic lacquer. The fact that we can be broken and redone, our scars made golden, is about all one can ask for. To be reassured in the poems is a rare pleasure.
Of Blue Bird: “Time capsule from the beginning of the 21st century”
All the love songs spoke
find different ways of speaking
from the sky, especially at night—
this blue before black—
that is to say that we wanted
pray but I was too scared
to ask for help, too busy to kneel.
We had learned to subsist
on so little hope that all junk
was welcome, like ants clamoring
for a grain of sugar in a bowl
nothing but salt. If you
could still see the constellations
through the ever brighter
light pollution sky glow,
you would notice that they were beautiful—
the glittering plan and pattern
things that are not made by humans,
bodies not intended to harm.
The stars gave even the hardest
among us a hint of pleasure
as we saw them
through a lover’s window
or leaving a nightclub,
when we remembered to look up
long enough to be amazed.
Reprinted with permission from Green Writers Press.