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Jul/Aug 2019 Reviews & Interviews

The Everyday Rapture of What Is

Everything that Rises
By Joseph Stroud.
Copper Canyon Press. 2019. 160 pp.
ISBN 978-1-55659-564-6.

Review by Gilbert Wesley Purdy


Buy now from Amazon! Joseph Stroud has traveled a great deal—physically and mentally—over a long life. The memories remain humble, detailed and compelling. The poems that recount the travels of his daily life...

through a summer as forever
as the forever of your childhood

...to his 76th year. They repeat the names of a few cherished friends that have given him a home port over the years.

The more at-large travels seem to have been undertaken alone. They were not taken to the standard destinations, by and large. None at all seem to have involved a package tour as evidenced by the memories—the souvenirs, in the original sense of the word—he brought back from them.

The volume Everything that Rises begins with a section of six line epigrams. This has become a form with Stroud. A discipline that forces him to be incisive where he would naturally be discursive or narrative (his habitual mode). On rare occasion he also requires himself to write informal groups of epigrammatic stanzas vaguely reminiscent of the Tang poets. These do not receive their own sections.

The three definitive traits mentioned above—travel, discursiveness, narrative—can find no purchase in the epigrams. There can be no pacing. They must come immediately to what point they may. This is so different from the rest of Stroud's poems that it can only be a discipline that he has forced upon himself.

Certainly, they expand what he has to offer as a poet. They are more energetic, portray more pronounced, more circumscribed emotions. They are more about striking moments lifted out of context. Having the advantages of epigram, they more often celebrate historical poets.

The other six sections of the volume range from prose poems to discursive poems of irregular line-length. Those poems eschew stylistics, depending instead upon the poetry of the content, the poetry of a life shared in common with the reader, a corresponding tone. That is to say that they come out of the mainstream of the poetry of the 70s and 80s.

While this might suggest non-descript poetry by today's standards, Stroud's remarkable command of the tools available to him makes clear that 50 years at the craft can come to a great deal that goes beyond categories. For him that common life really does reveal itself as...

the everyday rapture
of what is.

Should that browser fail to become a reader, it will likely only be due to the lack of patience that so defines the reader in our day. The 150 pages of Everything that Rises unfold slowly, carefully. They engage in no techniques designed to shock the reader into attention.

The most persistently striking tool Stroud wields is detail. Fine detail. In the poem "Intelligent Design," we watch a dragonfly slowly emerge.

the exoskeleton of a naiad
its split empty husk
while above it the naked
fleshed-out changeling
engorged with blood
pulses in the sun

The succession of lines implies the lingering succession of minutes the process takes. The number of lines imply the relative importance of an event that the vast majority of readers have never known to occur at all. Stroud's travels to local ponds have brought back a breathtaking souvenir—breathtakingly simple and a universe-in-itself both at the same time.

It is necessary to read these poems with care. It is easy to miss these tiny details and they are so much what make the poems exceptional. Poems this detailed must unfold themselves slowly in order to reveal their fragile cargoes.

Nearly as impressive, Stroud does not utterly avoid traditional craft. Everything that Rises sparingly breaks into metaphor:

I tell him winter is coming, the long nights are coming.
I tell him flowers are the candles of my spirit.

They are more striking for the fact that they are so infrequent. Perhaps because they are infrequent they are always apt and precise. It is possible that, because they too are of the most common sort, there is a danger that they may be missed in the hurry of many readers.

Joseph Stroud being a septuagenarian, the subtext to Everything that Rises is aging, memory, the passing of life. It is a theme as common as the experience. His command of his craft saves it from being in the least self-indulgent. His acceptance is presumably what prevents it from ever being obsessive. Balanced against it in similar proportion is a life still vital and lived in the present. Even in the face of his California homeland involving in wildfires at every hand. It is all there in the poems.

 

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