Book Bag: ‘A Late Spring, and After: Poems’ by Robert B. Shaw; ‘The Challenges of Masculinity’ by Carl Erikson

Published: 12/22/2016 12:21:08 PM


By Robert B. Shaw

Pinyon Publishing

Poet Robert B. Shaw, recently retired from more than three decades of teaching at Mount Holyoke College, has won a number of awards for his work over the years. In his new collection, “A Late Spring, and After,” he offers a series of meditations on his wife’s illness, her passing and the difficult aftermath.

In his book, Shaw, who was the Emily Dickinson Professor of English at Mount Holyoke, also reflects on his childhood, his Midwestern roots, the natural world and memories of his time with his wife, Hilary, who died in 2014. The poems in the collection were all written in 2015, he notes in the book.

Writing primarily in free verse, with the occasional prose poem and sometimes in rhyming meter, Shaw recalls memories like the wonder he felt for his grandfather’s tool collection, the marks his father left on the kitchen chair he used for years, and the feel of crossing a farm field in summer when the heat seems to conjure an “uncanny emanation like / a sigh up from the blistering soil ...”  

The poems dedicated to his wife cover the shock, grief and ultimate acceptance of her loss. In “The Tally,” Shaw reflects on what it meant to lose his mother and than his wife within less than a year:

“The orchestra has stopped. / But faintly, unabating / though the baton has dropped, / two notes go on vibrating. / One, two: insistent pair / clinging to every thought. / Murmured to vacant air, / ‘One, two’ adds up to nought.”

But he finds some solace in his memories of his wife and their time together in works like “Afterthought”: “She, above all, enlarged my life and brightened it. / Even now, if I look in memory’s mirror / there is some peace to be had when the mind’s daylight / defies chronology, finding us side by side ...” 

“The subjects themselves encompass an extraordinarily wide range of experience,” writes one critic of Shaw’s new collection. “Plants and animals, youth and age, private life and public history — everything is here in glorious enchantment and detail.”


By Carl Erikson

Amherst artist Carl Erikson, who’s created textile constructions for years, has also done a lot of thinking about what it means to be a man — or more particularly, the way society has long defined what men are supposed to be, and how that message can be harmful.

In his book “The Challenges of Masculinity,” Erikson writes about what he calls “Required Masculinity” — the notion that a man’s life should be measured by his dominance, power, wealth and number of sexual conquests.

That message, endemic in U.S. society, he writes, has led not just to male violence against women but to a lengthy catalog of problems for men compared to women: higher suicide rates, health risks and imprisonment rates, as well as dramatically falling rates of education.

And the demand that they be strong, silent types, holding their emotions in, leaves many men lonely, isolated and unable to cope with life, even if they reject the stereotypes of “Required Masculinity,” he says.

Erikson, who’s spent many years involved with men’s groups such as the Men’s Resource Center in Amherst, says he’s written his book to help men investigate these issues and make informed choices about redefining their lives. He’s based it both on his own experience with these issues and what he’s learned from others in the field.

“I am not a trained psychologist, anthropologist, or neuroscientist. … My purpose … is to free you from the demands and guilt that Required Masculinity puts on you and to give you the help, permission, and courage to find a masculinity that lets you live the life your heart wants you to live.”


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