Old Heart

Wallace Stevens taught us that “Death is the mother of beauty.” Mortality hovers over Stanley Plumly’s tenth and newest book, lending it a veiled and subtle beauty. Butterflies slip “through more molting lives / than saints –“; elsewhere “spirit birds” fly through “The spirit world the negative of this one; / soft outlines of soft whites against soft darks”; the narrator’s own mother lies

becalmed on hard white sheets,
the narrative of legs, arms,
animal centers stilled,
some starlight in the mind glittering off
and on, couldn’t tell me

whether or not to leave her

The keystone sequence, “Elevens” — comprising eleven poems, of eleven lines each — takes us straight into the heart of mortality’s dilemma. The poet’s own “old heart” reveals itself, “lit up on the screen, / the arteries, veins and ventricles.” Plumly centers his poetry inside the embodied world — air, snow, mountains, trees, grass, animals, insects. His lines have a sinuous and subtle beauty, like smoke. Yet they light up again and again in pure radiance. Poets speak to one another across time and space in their poetry. In Old Heart, Plumley converses with Pound, Stevens, Eliot, and Keats, and with his contemporaries: Donald Justice, Michael Collier, Henri Cole. As the list suggests, this is a curiously masculine book, like Melville’s Ishmael adrift on the sea. It is also wide-rangingly philosophical, understated, modest, and, ultimately, hauntingly exquisite. –