“Man is in love and loves what vanishes,” Yeats wrote. “What more is there to say?” Gibbons Ruark endorses this view in Rescue the Perishing, his fifth volume of poetry, even as he challenges Yeats through the depth and breadth of his memory and testimony.
Ruark’s love poems and elegies are filled with music. In the opening poem, “Postscript to an Elegy,” the “tremor of the phone ringing . . . Muffled car horns jamming in the neighborhood” anchor the memory of a lost friend in the music of everyday life. In other poems ,these moments of discovered music join with the strains of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and traditional Irish songs to create sense as joyful as love at its best and as tragic as car bombs and the elegies they necessitate.
Ruark has an unusual capacity to blend the political and the personal, to make the small things of this world—a glass swan bought as a gift, for example—reverberate with a patriot’s love for Ireland, a traveler’s love for someone distant, and the fragility of a country trapped in war. The poet captures how an oral tradition lingers, not just in the rhythms of speech or in songs repeated for generations, but in stories of heroism and violent death told where people gather for drinks.
Moments of beauty are shattered, as in “Glasnevin”:
In Ulster, just as the year was flowering,
The Sten guns roared and adamant hymn singers
Slumped in their bloody pews, and now, rung off
This granite, the old staunch hymns are streaming
From the country churches of my boyhood.
Yet images of dissolution, “little shards/ That will not gather into anything,” as Ruark phrases it in the volume’s opening poem, are transformed by the poet’s lyricism and his love of the natural world, a binding force throughout the book. This is a poet who, in the words of William Safford, “discovers as he goes.” One of Ruark’s many strengths is his charm in inviting readers to travel with him.
Gibbons Ruark’s poems have been previously collected in Rescue the Perishing, Keeping Company, Reeds, and A Program for Survival. A member of the English faculty at the University of Delaware since 1968, he lives with his wife in Landenberg, Pennsylvania.
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