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Reviewed by:
  • Radiance: Poems
  • Linnea Johnson (bio)
Barbara Crooker . Radiance: Poems. Word Press

The three-plus pages of single-spaced acknowledgments attest to the fact that Barbara Crooker is one of the best poets you've been able to read only every now and then. Writing her entire adult life and now a grandmother, this is her very first full-length collection of poems; a fact to give all poets [End Page 211] pause, even as one splashes into the lightstream of finally being able to read this perfect book.

Like the Impressionists Crooker daubs into the lyrics and onto the palette of her poems

. . . these iris rise writhe,charmed like snakes by the song of the sun.The wild blue heart of longing moves up, up, from papery rhizomes. . .

["Iris, 1889"]

she has proceeded without standard imprimatur and brouhaha. Like the Impressionists, too, Crooker has succeeded. With a minim here, a tittle there, an iota virtually everywhere, she's been nominated for seventeen Pushcart Prizes; she is the author of ten chapbooks and more than four hundred fifty published poems; she has had ten residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; Stanley Kunitz judged the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred competition which she won; and for her terrific, wit-whipped poem, "Nearing Menopause, I Run Into Elvis at Shoprite," and read by Alfre Woodard on the 1997 audio collection, Grow Old Along With Me-The Best is Yet to Be, she was nominated for a Grammy.

Radiance, divided into six parts, opens with "All That Is Glorious Around Us" and closes with "Poem Ending with a Line by Rumi," establishing a frame of the "grand vistas, sublime peaks, mist-filled overlooks, and towering clouds" of the luminous paintings referenced by the poem's title and the Thomas Worthington Whittredge oil painting, "Kaaterskill Falls," reproduced on this book's cover. Immediately, Crooker tells us that "everything is glorious around us" including "doing errands on a day of driving rain." Full of journeying water, red and gold leaves, rocky escarpment, panoramic landscape, the "glories of breath" and how her mother struggles to breathe, this poem causes us to notice "small rainbows of oil on the pavement" in juxtaposition with the oil paintings of The Hudson River School of art.

"There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground" is Rumi's line of poetry with which Crooker closes the book. Everything here, too, is "glorious around us." The line before Rumi's, one of Crooker's, leaves us in the hushed and tawny silence of a late autumn, ". . . so deep, the only sound, leaf falling on leaf."

In this volume of 84 pages/50 poems Crooker re-constitutes Aix-en-Provence, Paris, Shoprite, and a grammar lesson; she pegs wash onto a line, calls hawks from the sky, blazes iris, peonies, and sunflowers to life, gives us the Shozui temple, lilacs, licks of desire, red and blue, the gyre, Deconstructionism, a comet, and an opossum.

In "The Comet and the Opossum" Crooker, out at night, momentarily balances on transience, like a tightrope walker teetering on a highwire timeline, seeing light from a 20,000 years ago comet even as she notices the familiar backyard opossum diminish to bones alone, bones which might still be where she is now 20,000 years hence. [End Page 212]

Last night, looking up at the inky blackness, I felt myselfshrink, smaller than the smallest bones in the opossum's tail,and then I found the comet one last time. . .

When into words she forms her son's autism, her friend's cancer, or any of the other galvanic, tearing, breaking things of life, she isn't confessional or asking for pity, she's creating 'the made thing.' In a 2005 interview, she says, "I don't look at writing as a form of self-expression, but rather, the love of the made thing, like a hand-thrown bowl or oil on canvas. I try to do what William Stafford said, "I have woven a parachute out of everything broken."

This is all there is: the red cherries, the green leaves,sky like a pale silk dress, and the rise...


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pp. 211-216
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