Words, of course, are the building blocks of poetry. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a more adept, more gifted or more memorable architect than Pamela Uschuk.
In Crazy Love, a collection of new poems that comes after her Pulitzer-nominated Scattered Risks (2005), Uschuk gives people who savor the written word plenty of reasons to read - and keep reading.
Once her imagery - bursting with both wild nature and raw energy - pulls you into her poetry, the depth of emotion and striking juxtapositions she weaves into her work make it nearly impossible to return to the worldview you harbored before you opened the book. Uschuk is that good.
But if you are not a regular reader of poetry, Crazy Love gives you another reason to start. Uschuk is a local. Her talents for writing and teaching have taken her around the world, but she lives in the Four Corners with her husband, William Pitt Root, and is part of the faculty at Fort Lewis College.
"Climbing Down from Engineer Mountain," a powerful, elegant chronicle of exhilaration turning to heartbreak at the end of one of Durango's most popular local climbs, deserves to be read on its own merits. But if you know the route up Engineer and its attendant contrasts of wildflowers and stripped stone, the poem will strike a deep chord in your heart, one familiar, but strikingly new at the same time:"I want to reach out and hold my friends awhile/in the deep blue clarity of this altitude, make them fall/desperately in love with sneezeweed/and coreopsis the color of absinthe, with the small gray teeth of talus/that clatter like broken crockery/displaced by elk above treeline ..."
That local connection is then highlighted, but at the same time turned on its head on the next page. In "Sunday News on the Navajo Rez," a chance meeting with a woman at a gas station near Gallup opens a window on nearby New Mexico, but the view reveals an unexpected world. It's a world where Uschuk's concerns, despite her life of travel and the fact she is politically astute, seem almost trite compared with those of this woman fully occupied in the season of newborn goats and lambs:"I can see this woman lift each baby goat/in the cradle of her large arms and hold/it to the spot where her fingers/tapped out the names of her daughters, especially the last ready to head out with her company/to a desert far across the unknown globe, where villagers/also raise goats and avalanches take the form/of a roadside waiting to explode."
It's those surprises, plentiful from the book's first page to the last, that make this journey with Uschuk so worthwhile. And the last poem, "Flying Through Thunder," ensures the surprises will continue to echo in your memory long after the 102-page volume is tucked onto a shelf. Denver and Durango are not mentioned by name, but it's obvious to any local air commuter that the plane trip that comprises the surface subject of this poem is our own dreaded "Vomit Comet" ride home via small turboprop.
Thanks to Uschuk, a trip so rough "even the stocky steward wipes sweat/from his forehead, groans as if he's giving birth ..." turns from terror to epiphany. It's a masterful testimony to the power of language to jump generations, and distill the most disparate connections into a vivid experience shared by poet and reader alike.
One that, like so many poems in Crazy Love, will invite repeated reading.
firstname.lastname@example.orgGregory Moore is a Durango poet.