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88 Western American Literature but history buffs are sure to love it, for Laxalt sees his state with an artist’s eye, and interprets it from an enthusiast’s point of view. ANN RONALD, University of Nevada, Reno Light Years. By J. M. Ferguson, Jr. (Phoenix: The Baleen Press, 1977. 52 pages, $3.50.) Joe Ferguson’s most recent book of poetry, Light Years, is characterized by poetic movement. The opening line of the first poem projects patterns that are reflected throughout the remainder of the book. Called “Three Seascapes,” this poem shows how Ferguson has indeed composed a book rather than compiled a collection of poems. The poem’s three part structure mirrors the book’s three sections. A three-part structure can in itself be deadly common. Happily, Ferguson’s structure goes somewhere. Selected epic overtones in Part I give way to temporal, almost mundane references to the American southwest in Part II. Utilizing references and imagery established in I and II, Part III then sends us into a world of light — the ethereal, if we dare to expect so much from a book that can be read in about forty-five minutes. Like graphic art and much music, Ferguson’s comparatively few pages will entice serious poets to read them many times over. At first glance, the opening line of “Three Seascapes,” “Of water over stone I sing,” made me fear that Ferguson would drop into the old imitative trap. But he doesn’t. References ranging from Virgil to Milton, Marvell, Tennyson, Poe, Whitman, Eliot, and Sandburg show that Ferguson is maturely familiar with, not at all victimized by, these poetic greats. He is not afraid to show this familiarity, as we witness in such lines as “I lived alone and singing praise / Of light, till light denied me,” “Your Doric body will become / Its slender column in memoriam,” “To pause, to beckon is to drown too fast,” “This love song I sing continually / For you I sing for everything,” “Look for me in the green summer light,” “In the grass of the Custer Battlefield / The wind is singing in the mouth / Of a Dr Pepper can,” and many more. These lines illustrate an important ability to use tradition in a talented way. Ferguson’s poetic form remains regular. Nowhere does he explode his lines or pepper words all over the page. A haunting kind of symmetry, and in some cases, as in the back-to-back sonnets “Apology” and “For a Young Brother,” a specific stanza regularity help keep the ideas under control. His rhyme often demonstrates a kind of sound wound down effect that slips up behind you to prove it worked: “Singing with the self-same flame,” “The sky wide, wind-burned, wild / With the cry and white­ Reviews 89 winged / Flash of seabirds,” “Wound around the neck and wounded place,” and several others. Imagery becomes a part of form in Ferguson’s poems, with the water and stone in his opening “Three Seascapes” working gracefully through such epic features as Aurora and the Sirens, to become transformed into light. The actual process of transformation reveals itself in such poems as “Bright Winter Vision at the Airport” and “U.S. 64, N.M.” Nor is the imagery restricted to stone, water, and light. Another favorite image, and one quite challenging because of its timeless popularity, is the rose. Ferguson’s gentle punning utilizes the rose, I think, with poetic integrity, as we can see in the opening and closing lines of the first stanza in “Aubade” : These two pools hold the rose of the morning’s grief This flower rose from a well of human sorrow. The image crops up again quite deliberately in “Day Rises in the Rose,” in which Ferguson demonstrates his particular rhyming style as well when Not one of the children knows Why, nor how, nor where blood Goes if the day though it rose As a rose blows to pieces. In all his control and stanzaic regularity, Ferguson evokes from his interplay of images thought patterns that do become almost baffling at times. In spite of its power, the water-liar, a resultant form of his water imagery, leaves...


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pp. 88-89
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