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A probing and commanding final volume from a master poet facing his own mortality.
After a diagnosis of cancer, acclaimed poet Stanley Plumly found himself in the middle distance—looking back at his childhood and a rich lifetime of family and friends, while gazing into a future shaped by the press of mortality. In Middle Distance, his final collection, he pushes onward into new territory with extended hybrid forms and revelatory prose pieces. The result is the moving culmination of a long career, a work of fearless, transcendent poems that face down the impending eternal voyage.
Plumly populates this collection with tender depictions of poets, family, and friends—the relationships that sustained him throughout his life—as well as unflinching self-portraits. In “White Rhino,” for instance, he adopts the voice of the “last of [his] kind,” using the rare creature as a canvas to depict the dying, aging poet himself. In “Night Pastorals,” he writes vividly and movingly about being on his deathbed, with fragmentary impressions of the other side. In profound lyric narratives, Plumly reaches out to a past that feels closer than ever, returning to the Ohio of his childhood and the shadows of a country at war.
Blending documentary and memoir with his signature Keatsian lyricism, Middle Distance contemplates at every turn the horizons of Plumly’s life.
Plumly (Orphan Hours), in his posthumous 12th collection, studies his own mortality "like a man in love with something," as he writes in "With Weather." In clear-eyed and powerful page-long lyric poems filled with questions and wonder, he takes readers from his Ohio childhood to Europe and into the natural world. Plumly's life crossed with several other poets mentioned and conjured here, among them Galway Kinnell, Gerald Stern, and Wallace Stevens. Nature and memory are beautifully captured throughout, as in "Germans," a memoir piece about 11 WWII prisoners-of-war who helped out with his family's lumber business in Virginia. "It takes time," he notes, "by hand, to humble a tree." In "White Rhino," the poem that opens the collection, he wonders, "How long a life is too long." In that poem's final lines, he describes the rhino's "great heart lifted down,/ the tonnage of my heart almost more than I can carry." That line echoes through the deeply felt poems and prose pieces of this meditative collection.