In this strong, appealing collection, Nancy Willard shares her passion for observing the mysteries of the natural world, particularly the flora and fauna of Cape Cod and the Hudson Valley, where many of these poems are set. We see, through her eyes, the coming of darkness to an empty orchard, the retreat of deer at dusk, and the breakup of a river with the onset of spring. Willard is also deeply engaged with the living creatures that populate her world. Her poems record her encounter with a moon snail and her ...
In this strong, appealing collection, Nancy Willard shares her passion for observing the mysteries of the natural world, particularly the flora and fauna of Cape Cod and the Hudson Valley, where many of these poems are set. We see, through her eyes, the coming of darkness to an empty orchard, the retreat of deer at dusk, and the breakup of a river with the onset of spring. Willard is also deeply engaged with the living creatures that populate her world. Her poems record her encounter with a moon snail and her celebration of the ladybugs she sends into the garden and the butterflies that alight on her shoulders like ghostly kisses.
Amid poems about the intimate presence of nature are expressions of absences deeply felt. Willard is drawn not just to the inhabited world but also to the empty spaces with which our passage through life is strewn. In “The Absence at the Swing,” a rabbit watches a swing’s back-and-forth motion just after the children have left the playground; in “Niche Without Statue,” she takes us to “an alcove scoured / to stucco light” and tells us, “Somebody lived here. Stepped away. No tracks.” We learn, too, of the presences she misses most deeply, as in “Phone Poem,” in which she imagines receiving a telephone call from her father after his death.
Whether she is cultivating a sense of the life that is all around her or attending to the losses felt within, Nancy Willard never ceases to enchant us with the sense of dedication and awe that graces her verse.
"When I was a bird, the wind carried me,/ and when I died, somebody said goodbye." Willard's tender, careful 10th volume of verse for adults is her first since the 1996 new-and-selected Swimming Lessons, and it returns to the gardens, riversides, parables and Northeastern landscapes whose patterns she has made her own. A snowy sky looks "pale as oatmeal,/ bears up like sheep before shearing"; a bag full of ladybugs seems to her "a pulsing of lives small as a watch spring." Outdoors as well as in, Willard, who teaches at Vassar College, finds symbols of loneliness and family loyalty, evidence of deaths and absences, along with hints of divine presence: "all night long," she asks in "Niche Without Statue," "doesn't the sun recite/ what the moon measures and the tide believes?" A set of tightly rhymed (and Theodore Roethke-ish) tetrameter poems belongs among her best: "Look up. To the discerning eye/ my house stands open to the sky." Quietly inviting, the world here can be as apparently simple as "Sky. Clouds. Apples" (one of her titles), and as mysterious as the goldfinch in "An Accident," reincarnated "as a glad bride." Admirers of Roethke may find here one of his heirs; fans of Annie Dillard or Mary Oliver may encounter in Willard's verse subtler articulations of the attitudes they already love. (July) FYI: Willard has also enjoyed success as a writer and illustrator of books for children (The Tale I Told Sasha, Shadow Story, etc.), and as an author of fiction for adults (Sister Water), adding up to more than 60 books in all; the 1993 Nancy Willard Reader provided a sample of all this work. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A prolific author of children's picture books, adult fiction, poetry (Water Walker), and scholarly studies of literature, Willard, at her best, writes poetry that is charming but not whimsical, truthful but not prosaic, and, above all, fresh. She is able to appeal to the precocious child while appealing to the "child" in adults. That's a tall order to which many of the poems in her 13th collection can only aspire. Partly because their sense of audience is not clearly defined, some of these free verse and neoformal poems seem forced. This is especially true in the title work, a prose poem, which feels artificially bound by the form-a series of questions-that Willard imposes. In contrast, "The Ladybugs" and "The Butterfly Forest" succeed even by Willard's standards. Elegant in their simplicity, they appeal to a universal audience as Willard deftly weaves together difficult allusions to Hamlet, the Bible, and religious rituals, while using apt metaphors and sharply honed observations about the ladybugs and butterflies themselves. Recommended for larger public libraries.-Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Nancy Willard is the author of two novels, Things Invisible to See and Sister Water, and eleven previous books of poetry, including Swimming Lessons: New and Selected Poems. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in both fiction and poetry, and her book A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers was awarded the Newbery Medal. She teaches in the English department at Vassar College and lives in Poughkeepsie, New York, with her husband, the photographer Eric Lindbloom.