The Earth Avails

Mark Wunderlich. Graywolf, $15 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-55597-666-8
“My day will be spent here, in the middle of things,/ feeding split logs into the stove,” declares Wunderlich, or one of his thoughtful surrogates, midway through this ambitiously unified, quietly wise, and insistently rural third collection, where the sadder-but-wiser midpoints of adult lives, the agricultural middle of the United States, and the very center of the literary tradition called georgic (poems of advice for farmers) find unlikely springboards and inspirations in 19th-century German-American prayers. One series (“Prayer for the Fruits of the Field,” “A Servant’s Prayer”) began as free adaptations from a prayer book designed for Midwestern immigrants. Humility, practicality, self-chastisement and hope emerge, in unrhymed couplets, musical paragraphs, and stately free verse, through language at once restrained and humane. “So far I have warded off the worst of things,” begins “Prayer in a Time of Sickness,” though some of his wilder animals—“the albino deer was found drowned in a slough”—are not even as lucky as that. Perhaps the strongest standalone poem, “Driftless Elegy,” considers the poet’s own childlessness and the decline of his western Wisconsin home town. Wunderlich (Voluntary Servitude) became known for warm, urbane poems, often of same-sex eros. Here he switches his stylistic allegiance to plainspokenness, to the speech of the hills and plains, striking a hard-to-match tone of gentle humility, expanding his poetic powers. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 10/28/2013
Release date: 02/04/2014
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