Darting into the unknown as only the best poetry safely can, R. H. W. Dillard’s new collection bursts with bold violations of customs, flights of fancy, and insouciant leaps of tone and form. Unwaveringly skillful, these brave sallies explore the complex texture of life and death, light and dark, in “earth’s eastering whirl,” unafraid to confront paradox and finding in their sudden swift grace moments of “poise and equipoise”—the preciousness of now in the face of the infinite: “Somewhere eternity extends itself like Saturday / with so many things to do and voices in the air. / Somewhere a light will fill forever / like straw spun into gold.”
Dillard counterbalances his meditative forays with comic excursions into forbidden territory, including a major poem on flatulence—an ode to bran; three appreciations in verse of fellow writers’ work; a barbed academic memo to a dim colleague; and, audaciously, a textbook anthologist’s brief history of American poetry based on the mistaken premise that all the poets were Chinese-American acrobats (“The Flying Changs”).
Sallies’ daring manifests in complex rhyme patterns, unrhymed verse, concrete and found poems, and a closing set of poems complimenting a young woman (Sallie) in the tradition of Dante’s poems to Beatrice and drawing together the themes and stylistic variety of the entire book in a celebration of, in Emerson’s words, the “open hours / When the God’s will sallies free”: “By chance (or some higher plan) someone arrives / Just when we need them, shows us the way / From the window’s ledge or to the open door, / Helps us to find ourselves . . . and more.”
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