begins her portrait of a real scarecrow with a grand statement: "Now, when I picture him, I realize his secret/was that he had no secret." A physical description becomes cause for a philosophical reflection that seems entirely appropriate in this poet's pattern of combinations: "Under the straw hat, instead of a face,/there was only the notion of a look, steady, still/when all the livingworld of presence." And near its end this poem metamorphoses into an exploration of another of Stewart's urgencies, our understanding of the divine: "The gods do not have bodies and souls;/they have only their radiant bodies. sense/of their perfection."
Columbarium, like most of Susan Stewart's poetry, is filled with this kind of jump, both in idea and in sound. But her work shows many other aspects. For instance, this book has an elegant and exact architecture that includes the traditional four natural elements and their interplay with the basic building blocks of language the alphabet. All that is just another aspect of her capacious imagination and restless poetic intelligence.
Susan Stewart reads her poems at Rackham Amphitheater on Thursday, September 21.
[Review published September 2006]
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