Thursday, March 28, 2019

'Delivering the Goods'

At last, I will meet the man who wrote the immortal “Fried Beauty” and, in a poem titled “Ballade of the Yale Younger Poets of Yesteryear,” asked the burning questions: “Where’s Younger Carolyn Forché? / And where is Lindley Williams Hubbell?” For decades, R.S.“Sam” Gwynn has been proving that solidly built poems rooted in wit, learning and close social observation can be unambiguously funny. He has also been writing some of the best poetry criticism around.

At 2 p.m. on April 6, Gwynn and three other poets will be reading at the Oak Forest Neighborhood Library, which is roughly half a mile from my house. The series is organized by Public Poetry and the Houston Public Library. Gwynn lives in Beaumont, Texas, where he began teaching at Lamar University in 1976. There’s nothing folksy or “regional” about Gwynn’s body of work. He’s seldom merely funny. He’s a moralist and his range of tones is impressive. Take “Release” (No Word of Farewell: Selected Poems 1970-2000, Story Line Press, 2001):
“Slow for the sake of flowers as they turn
Toward sunlight, graceful as a line of sail
Coming into the wind. Slow for the mill-
Wheel's heft and plummet, for the chug and churn
Of water as it gathers, for the frail
Half-life of spraylets as they toss and spill.

For all that lags and eases, all that shows
The winding-downward and diminished scale
Of days declining to a twilit chill,
Breathe quietly, release into repose:
Be still.”

In the Spring 2011 issue of The Hudson Review, Gwynn closes his review of four recent poetry collections, “Personae Gratae,” with this observation: “Wisdom in poetry is, I think, largely a matter of a poet’s knowing his surroundings and getting all that he can out of them. It is most palatable when the poet doesn’t remind you how wise he or she is before delivering the goods.”

No comments: