Friday, December 30, 2011

In the New Year: For Peace, Find Justice; For Justice, Find Truth

I want to mention one more set of three poetry books, before I head back to the landscape of mysteries that Dave and I share. The set, together, forms the outline of hope for 2012: the longing for peace, made possible by justice, which in turn depends on truth.

A powerful work of mystery or crime fiction may present deep truths within the movement of the plot. The book I mentioned earlier today, Cold Comfort by Quentin Bates, presents the strength that Sergeant Gunnhildur in Reykjavík generates through her consistent efforts to unearth truth, while being kind when she can, firm when she must, and as tough as the job demands. The same aspects apply to the parenting she's handling as the narrative unfurls. Her character makes the book worth reading.

In the same sense, Michael Dickman's 2011 collection FLIES (Copper Canyon Press), which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, begins with the poem "Dead Brother Superhero," and captures some of the agony of witnessing death, especially as a child. By arranging a form of "Stations of the Cross" to hold the forms of loss, he connects caregiving, the longing to be beautiful, symbols of decomposing flesh (yes, flies), even friendship: "The lives of my friends spend all of their time dying and coming back ... I fell in love with the sister of my friends ... They lick their fingers / to wipe my face / clean // of everything // And I am glad / I am glad / I am / so glad." This is reality, truth, formed in a mosaic of fragments of emotion and experience.

Marc Gaba in HAVE (Tupelo Press, 2011) spins the "line" in so many ways that the collection is almost a moving kaleidoscope of form -- and within the words are reflections on both beauty and forgiveness. The many-page poem "Within Justice" extends a single long line over each page, making me wish I could see it written across the walls of a room. "It's not that happiness isn't terminal but that / witness is radical, fantasy its proof." I'm not sure how much of this I understand, but flashes of faith and questions writhe past in the pages. I think Gaba is posing questions to live with. That's one way to seek justice.

Most accessible of these three is Carl Adamshick's CURSES AND WISHES (winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets; Louisiana State University Press, 2011). I smiled through much of the first poem, which summons blessings -- including "May happiness be a wheel, a lit throne, spinning / in the vast pinprick of darkness," and as its finale, "May the dice have no eyes / and may you keep throwing them on the table's / green velvet. // May you have night, / with its dark branches, every night." Most of the poems here are compact nuggets, one about realizing that a woman in the neighborhood is being beaten, one called "Hope" and another "Benevolence" and then there's "Night," which involves a movie theater and ends, "You feel if it came close, / and asked, you would give / the world whatever it needed." I realize I'm not forming a narrative, a story, out of all this -- but there are reassurances in some of these, and warnings of underlying darkness, mysteries. "I see her staring at her arms, / astonished at how loss / can have the same weight as an infant."

Somehow in the year ahead, these mysteries of how war begins, of who feeds the monsters among us, of how to make sure all are nourished in the ways that work for them, these are in our hands. Struggling with these fiercely demanding poems may teach us something of how to paint truth, give justice, and create a wide and lasting peace in 2012.

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