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  • Sizzle
  • Margot Farrington (bio)
Woven Lightning
Roberta Gould
Spuyten Duyvil
84 Pages; Print, $15.00

Gould’s twelfth collection is a field report delivered from the four corners, expansive in breadth, alive to mystery. Rife with intelligence, these poems chart the idylls and terrors of existence. Clearly, Gould has dwelt years within her own “nuance factory.” The phrase (her own) is coinage indicative of an original. We happen upon it in “Wordcraft” where poets live as lepidopterists. Poised to net “the brightest, the starkest, the most subtle,” this trio describes Gould’s captures among language’s long meadows. Hers is a voice of many strata, infused by work in translation, endowed with heft from twenty-five years of teaching modern languages, a voice ruled by high discipline to extract the marrow of experience. A fine example is “At the Tule Tree, Mixtla, Mexico,” in which friendship and its subsequent loss are manifested in two parts. In the first, the speaker pours a vial of his or her own tears beneath a tree “Near the bird / Who drags its tail / Across the grass / A large grain of corn / In its beak.” The next stanza turns passionate, declamatory:

NothingWill ever cut me shortOf the glory and hunger they livedThose who walk here no longerNames that were love’s breathThought’s lightningThe color of weather

The shift from simple to grand, from the single bird seen to the speaker’s dead friends, might be poetic enough, but there follows Part II: four lines of deepest grief and effort compressed to fourteen words. The Tule tree is a Montezuma cypress native to Mexico, capable of living for centuries, but the reader exempt of such knowledge loses little since the poem is beholden to no borders. Gould’s border smashing represents one of her strongest suits—she is unafraid to take us anywhere. Her forays are rarely straight, instead they zigzag, bend time and place and perhaps the body we’ve been bidden to enter, or we become mind or landscape, rendered in a few calligraphic strokes. “Solstice Light” explores the interplay between light and shadow, sensations of land intercut with those of the body. Place and person rediscover and celebrate strangeness; the penultimate line about sunlight simultaneously conjures vision and blindness. “Bliss of emptiness!” comes the cry near the poem’s close, an utterance of self and of land caught in ecstatic meld. Exclamations can serve as crutches to prop weaker writing, but are never that in Gould’s hands. Hers arrive genuinely, their placement fulcrums that tip us unsuspecting from one surprise to the next. “Solstice Light” also suggests an intriguing Daphne and Apollo variant—many of these poems have their feet dipped in myth. There’s a Sisyphus poem all too appropriate for our era of impasse. There’s “Jenny,” in which one friend attempts to reach another, first by phone, then by internet. Soon, efforts are eclipsed as the searcher succumbs to questions: a list each of us has been beset by when we’ve suffered broken contact. “Or do you lead the way over the river we share?” comes the piercing end question, mentally stranding us upon the bank of the Styx, watching Charon ferry a boatload away. Not a whiff anywhere until that last line—but then the mythic flashes out—Gould’s sensibility drawing on the whole of the trove, on her ability to underscore the modern even as she mines ancient sources. Elsewhere, we’re privy to postcards from Electra and Penelope, transformed by fresh conceits to repaint longing and to shipwreck expectation.

Against the past, present and future assert themselves as firmly, right from the opening poem with the puckish title “About.” Those involved seem suspended in timeless free-fall, held while “a flashing and beeping surpassed the centuries,” but eventually they stand upon a “millennial hill” wound with a river they confess they “didn’t step in.” Hard not to hear in these lines lineage handed down from Dickenson: wild possibility closing down to eternity observed, full of freedom and sudden halt.

Often these beautifully lucid poems reveal linings of infinite...


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