This volume contains poems from Pratt’s two previous published collections, from an unpublished earlier manuscript, and new poems. The collection is bookended by poems that consider the poet in the world: an early poem (1986) that situates the poet “In the Woods” (“What’s he doing, you’d wonder, here in the very / Middle of the woods, shouldering logs from a stack / Someone cut and left so long ago”) and a new poem, “Resolution” that is decidedly more global in scope and perspective (“When the tsunami draws back its fistful of waters / And crushes the city, let me for once be ready /…When the suicide bomber squeezes the trigger / And fierce flames spurt and wild the body parts fly, / Let me be holding my lover or drinking my coffee // Let us be drinking our coffee, unprepared”).
Of course, the poet’s job, to some degree, is precisely to prepare us for all of the world’s many possibilities, disastrous (“when the ground shudders and splits and all walls fall”) and glorious (from “Evening Meditation in a Cathedral Town”: “Small concentration of the evening air, / Lacewing I look through you and glass to where / Beyond the fields the late sun condescends / To denseness, and its true brightness bends / And bursts to beauty where the transparent ends.”) Pratt moves between these emotional poles, between the real stories of childhood and myths and fables (he is a Francophile with a special fondness for stories and poems from France), between pastoral imagery and exploration of cultural and social realities, and between seasons (“November: Sparing the Old Apples,” “May 15,” “Prayer for December,” “The Pleasure of Summer Light”).
While later poems include descriptions of travel to Ireland, explore the themes of marriage and fatherhood, and make reference to the poet’s role as a teacher, Pratt seems most at home considering the natural world we first encountered in the opening poem quoted above, “In the Woods,” and these are, it seems to me, his finest poems, the ones with the freshest images, and the most carefully and artfully composed lines. Some of these, in fact, are especially effective, affecting, and often elegant. Here is “Child in the Herb Garden” in its entirety.
Exuberance of bird not turn of worm
not nuclear power plant beyond the curve
of eastward hill disturbs the child here curled
as if asleep among the herbs. Sky
crack, earth quake and siren bleat, still he’ll
not wake to cry; sunlit, rainwashed,
buried in snow, observed or unobserved,
clenched kernel of this world, perfect stone.