cover image IN THE SALT MARSH


Nancy Willard, . . Knopf, $23 (72pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-4229-6

"When I was a bird, the wind carried me,/ and when I died, somebody said goodbye." Willard's tender, careful 10th volume of verse for adults is her first since the 1996 new-and-selected Swimming Lessons , and it returns to the gardens, riversides, parables and Northeastern landscapes whose patterns she has made her own. A snowy sky looks "pale as oatmeal,/ bears up like sheep before shearing"; a bag full of ladybugs seems to her "a pulsing of lives small as a watch spring." Outdoors as well as in, Willard, who teaches at Vassar College, finds symbols of loneliness and family loyalty, evidence of deaths and absences, along with hints of divine presence: "all night long," she asks in "Niche Without Statue," "doesn't the sun recite/ what the moon measures and the tide believes?" A set of tightly rhymed (and Theodore Roethke–ish) tetrameter poems belongs among her best: "Look up. To the discerning eye/ my house stands open to the sky." Quietly inviting, the world here can be as apparently simple as "Sky. Clouds. Apples" (one of her titles), and as mysterious as the goldfinch in "An Accident," reincarnated "as a glad bride." Admirers of Roethke may find here one of his heirs; fans of Annie Dillard or Mary Oliver may encounter in Willard's verse subtler articulations of the attitudes they already love. (July)

FYI: Willard has also enjoyed success as a writer and illustrator of books for children ( The Tale I Told Sasha, Shadow Story, etc.), and as an author of fiction for adults ( Sister Water), adding up to more than 60 books in all; the 1993 Nancy Willard Reader provided a sample of all this work.