cover image Loosestrife


Stephen Dunn. W. W. Norton & Company, $19 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03982-5

Dunn's graceful and stirring collection is a walk through an ecosystem where loneliness is breathed in with the air and the wildlife takes on all too human problems. Dunn (Work & Love; Landscape at the End of the Century) begins with notes from the foggy valley of the broken relationship (""his mind cut loose/ from his heart/ like a dinghy in cold, still water""). Free will is supplanted by the inevitability of loss, and nothing can save romance: ""Everything was clear, and nothing much/ the better for it./ They agreed it was a matter of caring,/ and each felt the dull courage that comes/ from caring less."" In following poems, there may be fewer sad humans, but the animals have inherited the melancholy. A tiger cub raised by goats discovers its nature and ""A lone tern turns in the blowsy wind."" By the time we reach the concluding 10-part title poem, we are fixed in a real place, the woodlands of Southern New Jersey. There the unusually warm winter of 1995 is host to the little deaths, spiritual and corporeal, that accompany a false spring. (Sept.)