Sund’s Poetry Seems Uneven to Me

As I get further into Sund’s Poems from Ish River Country, I sense two rather different poets at work here, one that I like very much and another that I don’t like very much at all. The one I like is the one I discovered in the opening section Bunch Grass, an imagist in WW William’s vein, or, for that matter, one who reminds me a lot of Roethke’s early poetry.

This poet writes

for John Utti

Climbing the trail up from
Portage Head,

wet with morning rain, foot slipping..

How many have reached for
this same branch!

a poem that anyone who’s ever hiked around the Pacific Northwest would immediately identify with, though I’m not sure I see a need for the exclamation point. The poem immediately made me recall two favorite hikes despite the rain and mud.

The other poet, the one I’d rather skip, writes a long poem called:

for Alisoi and John


Inside the fat lady there is a beautiful
dancer. Any moment she will be
swept into the air like a feather.


She will turn and sail
slowly down, drift side to side, slowly
and with time to look around her and see
no one watching.
Yet the joy she feels
began with the help of some
spirit that seems to be outside her

At first, the idea seemed promising, I’m sure there is a “beautiful dancer” inside all of us, even klutzes like me who find it impossible to stay on beat. The hyperbole of “she will be swept into the air like a feather,” though, had me glancing ahead to see how long this poem really was.

And it turned out to be much longer than I’d hoped without any relief in sight, as suggested by this 5th section


There are many, many dancers.
There are dancers
so powerful their bodies burst into flame.
They hold heaven in both hands
while they glide round
the great
rock of the world.

which is way too poetic, in the pejorative sense, for me. Unfortunately, for me at least, this isn’t the only poem that resorts to these kinds of poetic hyperbole.

About the time I was thinking it was time for some speed reading, I found a section of Japanese haiku that Sund has translated. I was particularly fond of this one, by a poet I’ve never heard of:

In the pile of branches
ready for burning
leaves begin to sprout.


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