One of the things that I miss about being in school was that knowledge that if I was consumed by my reading, other people were reading the same books, and I had a built-in discussion group.
When Dave Bonta announced his plan to read a volume of poetry each day and to blog about it, I wrote to ask if those of us who couldn't be that ambitious could tag along anyway--could we vote in advance to read a book a week and discuss it? He said yes--and it's not too late for you to join in! Go here for details. Our first book for National Poetry Month is Diane Lockward's Temptation by Water.
Dave Bonta live-blogged his reading of the book, which I found fascinating. I wrote a response blog post that imagined what my live-blogging would look like in the day of an administrator, but that was not my serious response to the book. I've spent the last week returning to this book again and again--it's that kind of book that rewards multiple readings.
I first read this book back in July, in the way that I usually read a collection of poems, by dipping in and out. As usual, I loved her poems about food. I worried about fully immersing myself, since the poems seemed to have a bluish tinge of loss.
I'm glad that I read the book as a whole, because that reading has given me a different sense of the book. There are plenty of poems that explore the ways "Winter consumes what I love and leaves / behind the wreckage of absence--" ("Hunger in the Garden"). Even with the theme of loss, however, I found myself delighted by the new metaphors Lockward uses to describe it: "Azaleas, too, surrender to teeth, to hunger's / chomp and winter's bite" ("Hunger in the Garden"). Yes, the collection explores loss, but also the ways that loss makes us stronger: "Even the chain link fence endures, no matter what / has happened here, it grows rusty but endures" ("Learning to Live Alone").
The first poem in Section 1 both warns us and comforts us, reminds us of " . . . how we are all / looking for someone to push back / the waves, to grab hold of us, and keep us / here, pressed to this earth" ( "Weather Report"). One of the ways we grab hold of each other is through food, a wide diversity of food, from plums, to soup to pork and potatoes in multiple forms. My favorite of the food poems is "You Offer Lychee to Your American Friends." This poem explores the nature of sweet treats across cultures and encourages us to "Breathe the ghost of cacoa tree."
Nature also keeps us anchored to the earth. "Birdhouse" reminds us that for every loss, comes consolation; in this poem, the speaker doesn't get a profusion of flowers, but of birds. "For One Who Crumbles in Spring" reminds us that no matter the desolation, Spring's lushness returns every year. The speaker in "The Temptation of Mirage" says, "Give me starkness on the horizon, / predictability of beige and brown," yet this collection of poems celebrates a wide diversity of colors.
I've loved Diane Lockward's books, each and every one, and I first found her work by reading her blog; if you've ever wondered if a blog can lead readers to your other creative works, I'm here to report that they can and do. If you've ever worried that by putting your individual poems on your blog, people might not buy your larger works, I haven't found that to be true. I like to have a complete collection.
And Temptation by Water is the kind of collection that rewards us for our attention. It's wonderful to perceive the poems relating to each other, both those in close proximity, and those across the collection. It's wonderful to see poems that get their inspiration from traditional sources, like nature and love, but also popular culture, like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. But most important, it's the kind of collection that holds treasures for both the casual reader and the close reader. You don't need an advanced degree to understand these poems, but if you're the kind of person who likes to delve below the surface waters of a poem, there's plenty of undersea poetry life here.
And now, sensing that I may be stretching the world of metaphor too thin, I'll return to my own poetry writing, refreshed by this immersion into Diane Lockward's Temptation of Water.