By: Daniel Anderson
Reviewed by: Russ Kesler
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007
The title of Daniel Anderson’s second book Drunk In Sunlight suggests an altered state of consciousness. But “Drunk On Sunlight” could also serve as the book’s title, since so many of the poems here reflect a kind of rapture provoked by the wonders of being: “How excellent it is to be alive,” as the speaker of “Aubade” puts it.
That sense of wonder is always tempered, though, by a bittersweet awareness that existence is mutable. In “First Frost,” after cataloguing the many beauties with which the rime has imbued the environment, the speaker is moved to note the implications of that frost: “We know but will not say just what this is / That has so elegantly capped and pearled / The fringes, flats, and corners of our world / …We know but will not say that this is death.” But such brutally honest pronouncements never come across as morbid. Rather, they provide a tension that makes the reader feel that Anderson’s speakers are trustworthy guides to the territories that the poems inhabit—a world that is to be treasured precisely because existence is fragile.
Anderson has a deft touch with the iambic line, which provides not only music in these poems but also, as in the great tradition of English verse, makes for levels of implication above and beyond the imagery. “Elegy for the Dying Dog” begins with a typically honest statement: “Tomorrow he will die.” But the poem opens out into a meditation on that promised passing, as highly charged imagery and figurative language temporarily stave off that “tomorrow”:
For now, though, see him drowsing in the shade.
A cardinal cracks the red whip of its flight.
Frail butterflies—the metalmark,
The spicebush swallowtail—are lobbed
Like painted tissue on the air.
The fluid iambic patterns—always varied, never obtrusive—and the sheer richness of the imagery combine to suggest the affection the speaker has for the dog set against the awareness that his passing is foregone. And the foreshortened last line—three beats instead of the four we would expect—also acknowledges that fact: “One last command to heed or disobey, / But it’s not me who’s calling Virgil now,/ It’s Death who’s calling, calling, calling, / And he comes.”
The poems in Drunk In Sunlight revel in the shimmer and glint of the everyday, the “meringues” of clouds, “sweetly appled air,” “Two saber-blades of sunlight” on a kitchen floor. And it is that close attention to the quotidian, the way the poems honor what is easiest to take for granted, that makes them so attractive and necessary. One of the strongest measures of a poem’s success is the answer to the question: Do I want to read it again? For the poems in this book, the answer is always a resounding “Yes.” April 2009
Russ Kesler teaches at the University of Central Florida.