Book Bag: “The View of the River” by Wally Swist; “Madrid After Dark” by Ben Stubbs

Thursday, August 10, 2017

by Steve Pfarrer


By Wally Swist

Kelsay Books


Leave it to Wally Swist to find not just the beauty and serenity but the humor in nature. In his newest collection, “The View of the River,” Swist dedicates one poem, “Gambol,” to a chipmunk he once encountered on a hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, a critter calm and friendly enough to eat from the poet’s hand and leave a favorable impression, especially compared to another rodent.

As he writes, “The chipmunk is not as ignobly brazen as the squirrel — not the  / crazed mad dasher crossing the roadway, then / turning around, with its tail a raised question in / the air, always twitching, as the squirrel speeds beneath / the wheels of the moving car. The chipmunk  … behaves more in keeping with an athlete ...” 

“Gambol” is one of 36 poems in the new collection by Swist, in which the Amherst poet both celebrates the natural world and uses it as a portal to an inner life of memories and impressions.

There’s “These Foolish Things,” his recollection of first meeting, as young man, the late poet Jack Gilbert, who once lived in the Valley, and how that encounter altered the trajectory of Swist’s life: “the entire world would not ever quite be / the same again ...”

In “Marquee,” Swist reflects on the painful death of his mother and the “unforgiving leather” of the belt with which his father would beat him. His also writes of discovering the joy of movies in “Cinema,” a prose poem that recalls how his mother took him as a boy to see “The Rat Race” with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds.

It was his mother’s way of preparing him, he writes, “at the age of eight, for the society / I would eventually enter, and honoring the intuition of her / death.”

Swist, who released a collection of haiku earlier this year, “The Windbreak Pine,” also offers some short poems in that spirit in the new collection. “After Long Drought,” in just three stanzas, depicts with crystalline detail a sudden downpour through which a blue heron “as bright as a vision … strokes through the storm.” 

One critic praises Swist’s “mastery of poetic phrase” and “technical elegance” but notes that his new poems more importantly are “testaments to love and redemption possible for the self and the world. Deeply observant and deeply alive, they confirm Swist as an essential American voice.”



By Ben Stubbs

Interlink Publishing Group, Inc.


In exploring Spain’s most famous city, Australian travel writer Ben Stubbs has been inspired by the flaneurs of 18th and 19th century Europe, like French poet Charles Baudelaire: literary observers who wandered the streets of cities by night to discover secrets tucked away during the day.

“Madrid After Dark,” by Northampton’s Interlink Publishing, features Australian writer Ben Stubbs’ all-night stroll through the streets of Spain’s capital, beginning at 7 p.m. and finishing at 7 a.m. Along the way he encounters places and things not listed in tourist itineraries: cross-dressing migrants, people living at the airport, poodle-blessing priests.

Stubbs’ exploration also takes him into the expansive Parque del Buen Retiro, or Park of the Pleasant Retreat, which belonged exclusively to the Spanish nobility until the latter 19th century. This “350-acre green lung in the center of the city” is as beautiful as any park in Europe, Stubbs writes.

Mixing in bits of history and observations of Spanish culture, Stubbs notes that Madrid is a good place for anyone looking for nocturnal excitement, as many people don’t eat dinner until 10 and 11 p.m. and stay up well past that.

As he writes, “I don’t think you know Madrid, just like you don’t completely know a lover or a friend, until you’ve spent the night, awake, together in the city.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.