Saturday, June 25, 2011

`These Occasions of Special Grace'

Almost anything will do – a cool breeze on a warm day, butter melting on toast, a good haircut, J.V. Cunningham rhyming “estrange” and “change.” All are moments of no momentous consequence, gifts ignorable, what David R. Slavitt calls “occasions of special grace” in “Chicago Art Institute, after Lunch” (William Henry Harrison and Other Poems, 2006):

“Not the foreshortened ice-cream cone as it first
seemed but a `Glass of Beer,’ 1914,
by Juan Gris. Yes, I see it now, and my thirst
was slaked not ten minutes ago with the cold clean

“taste of a beer that I hadn’t, it now appears,
appreciated sufficiently. The small
pleasures of life that, over the course of years
one comes to take for granted…These are all

“there is, as these artists testify: fruit, flowers,
a view of a field or mountain, a striking face.
What more could one want or need? The painters’ powers
Recall to us these occasions of special grace.”

Slavitt’s poems are often like this -- art as reminder, as goad to gratitude and heightened awareness. They resemble light verse in their refusal to take themselves too heavily, but are seriously crafted, never slipshod or pretentious. His poems are light the way a feather or snowflake is light, functionally elegant and strong, enabling flight.

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