Stuart Bartow is a nature poet in the tradition of Jack Gilbert, a transcendentalist a la Emerson, a romantic (think Wordsworth), but his work is playful, whimsical, and surprising, uniquely Bartow. In “Like Donne or Dickinson,” he addresses us: “At the instant you’re perishing, life flares.… An irresistible magnetic / field has caught your trajectory / where you’ll split / to infinity, between egg / and sperm, returning / to the restless stars, where you were drifting all along.”
In Reasons to Hate the Sky, Bartow is drawn skyward, where his philosophical, environmental poetry breathes freely. Not the birdwatcher hunting rarities, he joys in the common: The goose (“As I surfaced to their clattering, their vexed / ascent over the stairways of air”), the owl (“Aroused by dusk, mole hunger, they rose / like great moths”), the crow (“a nightmare of black leaves / something afloat in a cold, white sea”).
In poems both formal and free, the universe emerges as a living organism, gorgeous, mysterious, and deadly. “The call growing more subtle, / more coy, more dangerous / as it dimmed softer and softer / to the verge where language ends.” Tossing a starfish back into the water, the speaker realizes life’s fragility. “What love is keeping my life spared?” he asks.
The details of everyday life filtered through memory become mysterious. Her father, “dark as rain on black umbrellas” in a photo taken before her birth, will later ask his wife, “Who are you?” In these lovely poems, Siegel meditates on her experiences and thus allows us to see ourselves.
Seaton’s Spoor of Desire, selected poems from his 40-year writing career, offers a range of material, including formal rhymed verse, found poems, and contemporary myth. His intention, like that of Montaigne four centuries ago, is to offer “my selfe fully and naked,” his goal to investigate “In what way is it becoming for one to live?” An important question.