There is little proof that Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins, contemporaries who led single and relatively reclusive lives writing poetry on opposite sides of the Atlantic, met and wedded and produced children. In fact, the only proof I’ve found to support this absurd claim is the poetry of Lisa Russ Sparr, which seems to descend from both poets’ work. Sparr shares Dickinson’s cool, ironic personification that becomes story just in time to end. (There’s something like ice cream in Dickinson’s and Sparr’s essences of abstractions like soul and death and worship: they are scooped more than they are sculpted.) But Sparr also inherits Hopkins’s diction, chosen both for the heat and force of sound – and both poets’ sound makes meaning – as well as for the subconscious associations carried by the perfect, unfitly spoken word. For Sparr, maybe, apples of dusk in pictures of cobalt.
Sparr dwells on sky; she draws from blue and the stars and the hot afternoon. She’ll seemingly choose any subject or feeling or poetic form under the sky so long as her soul can live under that sky and in sight of it. For me, Lisa Russ Sparr’s poetry shakes with the pervasion of worship and the weighty noun that keeps at the spirit.
Here’s from “Rain”:
After long drought,
with livid muster
and the appearance
of singing, this bruised mizzle
inveigles at last
the dripping saplings
bled boxwoods, towering privet –
its slacked vests shivering –
They kiss at the end. Anyway, Hopkinsesque. More Dickinsonian, perhaps, is “Self-Portrait”:
Blandishment of blue
veins in my wrist, I too
am vassal to the heart
with its secret parts
and curtained throne,
its cage of bone
that holds the soul
awhile, above the shadow:
mark of me the sun makes,
then, rising, takes
away – the blue of me –
in perfect verity.
Here are the first and last two stanzas of “Nocturne,” a poem in which I see both Hopkins and Dickinson as well as something more – not better, but Sparr’s own poetic vision:
Yes, Venus, ripe and undeniable fuse
in the evening wine, I have felt love
fill me with God’s furthest time.
* * *
I know it in the lustrous, slow and mating strokes
of the fireflies, in their coded tonguings
of each occidental swag of mistletoe, every bitten branch,
that secret, pelvic recess of stirring leaves.
And though I cannot dwell there, I live
for those illuminated eternities of unharmed hope.
All of these poems are from Blue Venus: Poems, a volume published in 2004 that I picked up in Charlottesville last month. Sparr has an older and a newer published collection, too, the newer having come out last year. Sparr directs the creative writing MFA program at the University of Virginia.
Posted May 26, 2009.