By Wally Swist
Virtual Artists Collective
“Velocity” is Amherst poet Wally Swist’s most recent collection of verse. He has included poems published in journals over the years, as well as some previously published poems that he’s reworked and, in some cases, retitled.
In the 68 poems in “Velocity,” published by Virtual Artists Collective in Chicago, Swist examines the beauty of nature and the importance of being in the moment. In “Practicing Mindfulness,” the narrator stacks firewood in a driving rain, and what might seem a dreary task becomes a cause for quiet satisfaction: “Sometimes a knot in a piece / of split wood looks at me like an eye, / and I move through the mist and pelting rain / all afternoon to finish just before darkness ...”
There’s also sadness and loss, such as the death of a beloved dog in “Opening Into Sky.” As in much of his previous work, Swist draws strength from his spirituality, and some of the poems of “Velocity” also pay tribute to other poets and artists: Pablo Neruda, Jack Spicer, Walt Whitman and composer Elaine Lillios.
In “For Walt Whitman,” Swist directly addresses the famous Brooklyn bard: “I am uncertain whether it is you that takes one of my hands / In yours, in a celebration of exuberance, or whether it is me / That reaches out to you to place one of your hands in mine.”
BOX OF WATER
By Mary Clare Powell
Extra Virgin Press
Greenfield poet and Lesley University professor Mary Clare Powell has published her most recent poetry volume in an unusual format: She’s printed the 22 poems on thick, individual cards and presented them in a small box, like one that might house postcards or letters. The subject of the poems is also an unusual one: Powell’s regular morning swims at the Greenfield YMCA pool.
“Box of Water” came about after the YMCA replaced the pool area’s windows with real glass, creating a vivid display of light, shapes and color in the water and on the walls that struck Powell as almost divine.
So Powell wrote in celebration of her swims and of the other people in the water. Some of the poems, of haiku-like brevity, examine the strange and beautiful effects of light on water and other natural features. In “Icicles,” she writes, “Four rows/ of delicate icicles / have formed / between cracks/ of louvers, / little chains of cold! / Slender gods / inherent in ice, / cool to our warm.”
Powell notes that the rather dull routine of swimming laps allows the mind to wander, in turn making her more attentive to the changes in light by the pool. In “Early,” she tracks “the ghost moon / slipping sideways / in a neat line / for sixty seconds. / She follows me / as I swim — / until clouds come.”
The individual cards of “Box of Water” come in three colors and are embellished with a simple graphic element done by letterpress printer Ed Rayher, of Swamp Press in Northfield. Digital printing of the collection was done by Collective Copies of Amherst.