Toward the Winter Solstice: New Poems (Paperback)
by Timothy Steele
Swallow Press/Ohio University Press/Athens, Ohio
61 pages; Amazon price: 10.17 $
Thick fog has filled the canyon overnight
And turned it to a sea of milky gray:
From the first two lines, I was hooked. It happens, you know. I look at those two lines right now and think, "Well, they aren't that spectacular." But of course they are when you aren't expecting them. The image is both reminiscent of the endless cat/fog motif and yet breaks away from that at the same time.
That, in a nutshell, is what this book does. It does not break new ground; all the poems are formal, beautiful, quiet. There are no explosions of emotion or thought (this is neither a neurotic nor cerebral book), there is no attempt to forge a new meter or a new style nor does it worry about voice, his voice being overshadowed by working in the tried and true forms. You will not find experiments in difficulty here or rather he does this stuff so well that almost nothing he does looks particularly difficult.
I can think of at least three poems off the top of my head that I went, "Damn, I wish I had written that."
If you're looking for nature imagery, this is a good place to start. Like Yeats, Steele can capture fleeting moment concisely, those moments that you remember only when someone points them out:
Too frail to swim, she nonetheless
Gingerly lifts her cotton dress
Clear of the lake, so she can wade
Where the descending sun has laid
A net of rippling, molten bands
Across the underwater sands.
Early on, I flirted with the idea of calling him a California Frost (of course Frost was born in California) or something along those lines. He seems to recognize that in himself in "Yellow Birches":
Robert Frost's swinger wouldn't swing those
Luckily, he also deals with city imagery as well so you don't have that nagging suspicion that I sometimes get with Frost, "Is there a tree that you aren't going to write about?" Unfortunately, the very strength of these poems also creates a yearning to break free from the form, to let loose and write something that is a bit rough around the edges. Steele is grouped with the New Formalists (and almost always considered one of the best) and given his prose work (Missing Measures, All the Fun's in How you Say a Thing -- I've read both), it is clear that Steele's agenda is to bring meter back!
But you can't go back and I for one think that this gives poetry readers more choice.
I don't recommend this to new poetry readers, the pleasures are too subtle for someone newly spellbound, nor would I recommend this to someone who thinks poetry can and should change the world every time a writer sets pen to paper.
It is a book for quiet evenings and a glass of wine (or in my case early mornings and a cup of coffee).
And that's worth ten bucks if you ask me:
Although the roof is just a story high
It dizzies me a little to look down.