Poetry Month, Day Two: Lisa Russ Spaar recommends On the Seawall

April 2, 2013

A poetry website I visit unfailingly is Ron Slate’s On the Seawall (http://www.ronslate.com/). The site serves as a homepage for Slate, who is a gifted poet, but is devoted primarily to his discerning, elegant, forthright reviews of new work by others. His far-reaching and aesthetically diverse tastes have acquainted me with many poets, fiction writers, artists, and critics I would not have otherwise encountered. He periodically invites other writers to recommend new books in a kind of round-up, and in this way creates a space that feels generative and full of dialogue.

On the Seawall was launched in August 2007, on Slate’s 57th birthday. Slate tells me that he intended at first “to blog in the stricter sense – that is, to post comments regularly and generate conversation. But I discovered that I had little to say and no desire to obligate myself to say it every day. Writing about books, however, gives me enough space and time to understand the shape of my response. A book of poems (or any artwork) tries to create a place for experience. My job is to discover the place and describe the source of my pleasure as specifically as I can. William Meredith said, ‘One cannot review a bad book without showing off.’ A writer should be wary of conforming to his own tastes, so I cover a range of poetry (and other genres). I’m not interested in devoting energy to work that fails to stimulate or provoke me just to tweak someone’s nose. The Seawall is an American poets’ site—but its impulse is cross-genre and global. To admire is tantamount to being influenced—and since I take much out of my fiction and non-fiction reading, I assume other poets do, too. In sum: I maintain The Seawall to keep in touch with people, to enjoy our communal literary life, to bring accomplished writing to the attention of my following, and to elevate my pulse.”

Slate is himself the author of two superb books of poems, The Great Wave (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) and The Incentive of the Maggot (2005, Mariner Books). Here are the closing stanzas of Slate’s “The Great Wave”:

I had a dream—high-water marks on the side
of my house, the aftermath of a deluge
rising from a spring in the cellar.

I didn’t realize the floodwaters would recede
with the violence of their rising, fishing boats
torn from moorings, dome of the mosque collapsed.

You who savor the scent of the linden
live in a small world, and I also speak
from a cramped provisional space.

On the stacked ship they videotaped
as they passed, then circled back to pluck
a single man from floating debris—

I witnessed this alone on a glowing screen,
I couldn’t lift an almond to my mouth,
I was a fallow field ruined by brackish flood,

but I would choose the wave over the wind,
I would swamp your world with wreckage,
I would hold fast to you, and you would be saved.
© Ron Slate.

Slate’s site feels like a lifeline to me, and there isn’t anything he’s written—poem, review, essay—that I wouldn’t be interested in and grateful for reading.

Lisa Russ Spaar

(Note: Portions of this entry appeared first in The Hide-and-Seek Muse: Annotations of Contemporary Poetry © by Lisa Russ Spaar, Drunken Boat Media, 2013)

Lisa Russ Spaar’s most recent books are Vanitas, Rough (Persea Books, 2012) and The Hide-and-Seek Muse: Annotations of Contemporary Poetry (Drunken Boat Media, 2013). Her awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Weinstein Poetry Award, a Rona Jaffee Award for Emerging Women Writers, and the Library of Virginia Award for Poetry. She teaches at the University of Virginia.

*Throughout Poetry Month 32 Poems would like to use this space to praise the presses, journals, and readings series that bring  poetry to us in a special way. Our hope is that we can point new fans in their direction and publicly thank editors and curators for their work. Check in with us again tomorrow for another poet’s recommendation.

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