Poems that Confide, Poems that Shimmer. Review of Bound Stone and Bearing Witness

Colleen Anderson, Bound Stone, Finishing Line Press, 2016, 23 pages, paper.

Claudia Van Gerven, Bearing Witness, Finishing Line Press, 2014, 27 pages, paper.

With so many poetry chapbooks out, it’s reasonable to ask what we should expect to take away from an encounter with one of them. If the poet’s good, we can expect we’ll get some effects with language that will at least delight and—better--move or unsettle us, echoing in our heads for a while. We may begin to hear our own language music. We might look at the ordinary, at least for a few days, as if sheen lies on it.

If a group of poems does these things at least, it’s a great start. Some books—almost anything by Louise Gluck or Phillip Levine come to mind--do more. They pull back the curtain to reveal, baldly, how things really are; they disconcert us and force a stretch. The poems are, as a character in Robertson Davies says poems should be, “a break in the cloud of human nonsense.” They don’t necessarily show the world to be bleak; they might reveal the joy and soundness of the world beneath the nonsense.

I kept these ideas in mind as I read two newish books of poetry by authors I knew nothing about. I read Bound Stone because Grace Cavalieri described it in a review and quoted “Veery,” and I loved the poem. I came across a poem by Claudia Van Gerven in Passager magazine and decided to explore more. Both are poets who have been looking at the world for decades.

Without announcing themselves to cohere around any theme, the poems in Bound Stone mostly explore long-term, knotty friendships and describe the natural world surrounding the speaker. Descriptions of the environment always take a particular approach; they show the way the mindfully experienced, faithfully noted natural world comes inside us, becomes part of our inner arrangement and way of perceiving. The world we’re looking at ignites reflection:

And yet, it isn’t fear. I want to make

it last, this afternoon, this winter ride

through cottonwood and sycamore, beside

the Williams River. I want to take

all I can hold