Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Lunations by Garrett Mostowski - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Lunations: Poems, Garrett Mostowski. Wipf and Stock; 71 pages, 2023.

Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Wendell Berry asked that his readers speak his Sabbath poems to the trees. I wonder if Garrett Mostowski envisions Lunations read out loud to the moon, his muse. Whenever and wherever this collection is read, I recommend an atmosphere for quiet concentration.

Mostowski is a poet’s poet. He gives attention to the craft of a poem, employing literary devices like alliteration, internal rhyme and diction (choice of words). He cites a number of classical and modern poets, meaning he is well-versed and generous with naming his influences. That is refreshing.

Many poems are in free-verse form and use creative line breaks, spacing and structure. There are also prose poems, including two separate series envisioned as a captain’s journal and comments “overheard onboard.” He writes a haibun and several haikus. To give an idea of the range of topics, my favorite poem is a moving reflection about the relationship between father and son in the context of riding bikes.

Lunations, however, is aptly named. Many poems ruminate on that silent orb in the night sky. The moon’s many phases serve as a metaphor for the unpredictability, struggle and occasional delight of life. Poems about the moon are grounded in Mostowski’s earthly life, especially his intimate relationships. Though this is his first poetry collection, Mostowski avoids the rookie mistake of trying to say too much at once.

Like the moon’s surface, many of these poems are concealed with intentional ambiguity. Readers will have to work to interpret meaning. While a parish pastor, Mostowski rarely references Christianity. Like the shadow of the moon, he leaves readers to imagine the contours of their own faith.

The mark of this book is that such a reader’s effort is rewarded. Mostowski invites us to live into the paradox: we are moved in our daily lives by higher forces, if only we stop and look up. Slow down and notice. In “captain’s journal: final transmission,” Mostowski writes, “Here’s why I’m slow: … It is because I am away, / but still here with you, / just observing / everything / in my / time/ with space.”

Copyright©2023 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Ross Gay, The Book of (More) Delights - Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Ross Gay, The Book of (More) Delights, 2023. Chapel Hill, NC, Algonquin Books. 304 pages. $28 U.S. hardback. 978-1-953232-83-8.

Reviewed by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

The other day, I saw a birch tree and immediately thought of its bark as “curling like pages of old books.” Reading Ross Gay will put his words in your head.

The Book of (More) Delights is the sequel to the author’s best-seller. He practiced the habit of writing about one thing that delighted him each day for an entire year. He calls them essayettes. They read to me like a hybrid between a journal entry and prose poem.

At one of his readings, I heard Gay claim that he is a “simile guy” and his latest book of prose bears this playful poetic touch. For instance, sweet potatoes are nestled under the ground “like a fluffle of bunnies.” This is delightful. Also, his description of a friend’s laugh as “like a gravelly hot air balloon … sometimes like a tire popping.”

When Gay happens upon a squirrel face first in a front porch Halloween pumpkin — “that plump butt, those long-footed rear legs, and that tail, buoyant, flamboyant” — he memorably describes the creature as devouring a seed “like me eating a little pizza.” Delight!

When reading these essayettes, I often found myself humming the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts.” A gift to be simple, a gift to be free. In Gay’s words, “There are so many simple pleasures, simple delights, and maybe the goal, the practice, is to be delighted especially by them, the simplest of things.”

But despite what a reader might think, Gay protests that he is not “some kind of sage of delight.” He also reflects upon “un-delights” such as the Macy’s Day Parade as “a miserable advertisement for global corporate dominion.” He compiles a litany of un-delights: “being the descendent of people who were treated as property; having been driven from your land; having had your neighborhood razed for a highway or industrial park; having had the top of the mountain where you live blown off; having been disbelieved, or brutalized, in a medical setting …” Gay goes on.

The paradox about this book of delights is that Gay returns again and again to the topic of death. Anyone who has ever visited someone in Hospice will deeply resonate with the chapter “At the Door.” When Gay’s grandmother dies, he eulogizes her, in part, by delighting at the recollection of the unique way that she said his name. His writing brought tears to my eyes. Might that, too, be a delight?

Just as another of his essay collections, Inciting Joy, made clear that joy is not the absence of sorrow, reading Gay helps me realize that simple delight is found among complex realities, including struggles. He refers to a “completely unspeakable difficult time” when “the awful … was really rattling around in my mind like a maraca.” (Note another delightful simile!) Gay then describes a simple spoon, but it occasions this reflection on a profound friendship: “no small balm … to have a friend pointing out, too, what is not only un-awful, but truly beautiful, the truly beautiful human-made, the human made beautiful…”

The short chapters of this book can be read quickly. I tried to slow down and savor the words, which I suspect is also a way to look for delight in my life. This book has taught me that curiosity is a close cousin to delight. And reminds me of the deep, abiding delight to contribute to the delight of others: “It is … some delight when a kind who has a hard time becomes a kid who’s having a good time in no small part thanks to you throwing that kid in the air again and again.”

Copyright©2023 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.