cover image Lifelines: Selectecd Poems 1950-1999

Lifelines: Selectecd Poems 1950-1999

Philip E. Booth. Viking Books, $29.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-670-88287-8

Booth (Relations) has spent half a century writing humbly meditative lyrics and quiet, compassionate verse about his life amid the people and sights of coastal Maine. This generous collection offers most of the work from his previous nine books, along with 17 new poems, many of them moving evocations of old age. Booth brings in Maine's ocean, boats, houses, terrain and longtime residents, from lobster traps to ""Four straight days/ below zero,"" to rock-climbers ""feeling for handholds... cheek to cold stone,"" to boat-builders and log-choppers, to the ""rip-tide/ paint"" in John Marin's canvases ""that, flooding,/ tugs at your vitals,/ and is more Maine/ than Maine."" Alongside this regionalist agenda come invocations of saintly writers--Thoreau and Chekhov, among others, put in repeat appearances. Booth seeks to be comprehensible to all his readers, and to offer simple wisdom. His aurally careful, short-lined and abstract free verse may remind readers of Robert Creeley, who also aims ""to/ say the feeling, its/ present shape."" But too often Booth relies on flat, abstracted exhortation, and on oversimplified psychology. In ""Cleaning Out the Garage"" he resolves ""to let go what won't do""; later he ""mean[s]... to let light/ fall where it would,"" ""to revise his whole life,"" ""to be alone with/ myself,"" ""to learn with/ myself to be// gentle,"" ""to keep believing in love."" (Italics his.) Booth does better when describing ill-fated lives: ""Calendar,"" for example, offers a spare, deeply frightening account of a woman's stroke. If Booth's self-imposed limits hinder his poems for some, the same traits will make him a cherished companion for others, who will enjoy his attempts to make his verse embody compassion and self-restraint--not to mention his sensitive pictures of Maine. (Sept.)