Of This World: New and Selected Poems by Joseph Stroud

Reviewed by Rodger Lowenthal

  • Paperback: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press; Uncorrected proof. edition (December 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155659285X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556592850

There are many good poets who are not well known outside of a small regional area.  An example might be the late Louis McKee.  Another substantial example, to my mind, is Joe Stroud of the Santa Cruz, California area.  I was introduced to his work in 1974, when his first book In the Sleep of Rivers was published.  In the following almost forty years, only three books saw print, not counting limited editions.  He is not prolific, does not publish a book every three or four years.  Perhaps this is the reason I have never seen one of his books in a Barnes and Noble.

Of This World collects Stroud’s work in one hefty volume.  Well travelled, Stroud writes of Vietnam, Peru, Greece, Venice, the High Sierras, Cezanne, Brueghel, T’ao Ch’Yen, friends and lovers.  The language is simple and luxurious, but not cloying.  In “Dolor” Stroud discusses several poets:

But grief is a place to begin,

a kind of clarity.

The poem ends:

The horses heads

turned toward Eternity, Emily singing

her way into the journey.

Stroud draws pleasure from the mysteries of his surroundings:

For he leads the way –

he is the hand of shelter –

he bears our grief.

To the Father (complete)

 

There are many references to Chinese poets.  T’ao says:

A thousand years are beyond us

but this moment we can turn into forever.

In “Seizure” Stroud imagines he has a heart attack.  He falls and, after a while, pulls himself up and wonders “what it was that broke open” while trees are “pulsing, shimmering as if in flames/and within my body a hushed feeling, beatitude,/ a silence closing around silence.”

In “Knots” Stroud’s father chafes at his son’s difficulty with learning to tie his shoelaces.  Stroud, many years later, still does not understand how his father loved him with “a knot so tight it has taken all my life to untie.”

In “Poetry As Survival” Gregory Orr quotes the post WW II German poet Gunter Eich.  “Writing is not only a profession but also a decision to see the world as language.”  In this respect, Stroud has remarkable vision.

Life, for Stroud, is adapting to a hostile world.  Many of his poems deserve a second reading.  This is poetry of a quest for understanding of Nature and Human Nature.  Forty years of poetry in one volume.  A great bargain.

 

Rodger Lowenthal is a poet from Eastern Montgomery County Pennsylvania who is known to frequent Ryerss Museum and Library  in Fox Chase. His poetic reviews of books have appeared on line in various literary blogs. He is known to pick up pieces of cigars and Hollywood whenever he can.

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