Book Review

Abbot Cutler, Say Dance, Say Night, Slate Roof Press, 2013

by David Gross

This is a beautifully produced chapbook of beautifully constructed poetry. I believe the first Abbot Cutler poem I read was in an issue of Orion. The poem was titled Leeks and it blew me away. Ever since then I've sought out his work. Cutler has published two previous chapbooks, 1843 Rebecca 1847 and The Dog Isn't Going Anywhere. I've looked far and wide, both out-of-print, but had no luck finding them. So it was great when I found this new collection offered online by the publisher. Here's is a taste of the aforementioned poem:

I pick up the pile of leeks
and carry them to the kitchen.
I wash them clean. I chop them
on the old board. I cook them
in oil and salt. I taste
their great sweetness. I remember
that the earth will hum into spring.

This paean to the lowly onion speaks of nature's seasonal resurection and comforts us with the knowledge that spring sun will soon replace winter's darkness and brighten up our dim winter psyches.

These poems are complex, well thought and well wrought. They are accessible yet deserve a deep reading to fully appreciate them:

In Arabic a spring giving water
and the eyes are the same word.

In English a spring giving water
and the season are the same word.

The Mayans understand the gods
can hear only the language of metaphor.

A spring that brings forth sweet water
is the same as an eye that imparts sweetness
to the one it beholds.

There's so much going on here, we have to slow down and think about it. It's refreshing, when so much poetry being published today comes across as shallow, language-exercises about things so personal it's hard to identify with them.

Abbot Cutler writes precise, sophisticated, intelligent poetry, filled with the wisdom of a man who has lived life fully and continues to do so. Compassionate, humble poems that sometimes vibrate with the ecstasy of Rumi, the wonderment of John Claire and the astute perception and simple vernacular of Robert Frost.

The jug of feeling fills and empties a thousand times
a day. Dust whirls around in the vast hall
inside us. When we walk down the street
none of this is visible.
("The Hollow Gourd")

This book is everything I'd hoped it would be when I ordered it. The poems come from that mysterious place where all great poetry comes from. There is a feeling of solitude in them, a seasoned sense of humor and a certain gravity in the lines that makes you sit up and take notice, to appreciate their craftsmanship and authenticity. Poems that ask serious questions, offer serious answers and remain new with every reading.

Winter Morning

Snow curves up and over
the stone wall, perfect in its sweep
out into the world. Mathematicians
and angels dancing together,
their temples against each other,
their bodies in concert, came up
with this just as it is.
In the house, heart, says the woodstove,
the world says, cold. Little tricks
of beauty says the table. Nothing
lasts forever says the black iron frying pan.

David Gross lives on a small farm in the foothills of the Illinois Ozarks. His most recent collection of poems Pilgrimage is available from Finishing Line Press or at Amazon.