“One of the finest poets of the last fifty years.” —Salt
to the Nth, like the truth of an ending
unskeined across the crust of the white field.
Though it happened only once, I
am sending the thought
of the thought
To return to
the field before the mowing.
When a goldfinch swayed
on a blue stem stalk,
and the wind and the sun
stirred the hay.
—from “After the Mowing”
Cinder: New and Selected Poems gathers for the first time poetry from across Susan Stewart’s thirty-five-year career, including many extraordinary new poems. From brief songs to longer meditative sequences, and always with formal innovation and exquisite precision, Stewart evokes the innocence of childhood, the endangered mysteries of the natural world, and deeply felt perceptions, both acute and shared.
“Stewart explores our insatiable desire to remember and make meaning out of this remembering,” Ange Mlinko writes in The Nation. “Stewart’s elegiac bent has broadened, over time, from the personal lyric . . . to what might be called the cultural lyric. Fewer and fewer of her poems reference what she alone remembers; they are about what you and I remember.”
Reading across this retrospective collection is a singular experience of seeing the unfolding development of one of the most ingenious and moving lyric writers in contemporary poetry.
Spanning 35 years and six collections, this generous assemblage showcases Stewart's accomplished and ongoing exploration of poetry as musical, embodied thinking. Stewart's work finds continuity across a range of styles and approaches. Whether lush or stripped-down, her poems are grounded in a deep, assured prosody. She uses received forms and experiments with new lyric possibilities while remaining steeped in tradition. And regardless of pace or breadth of topic, Stewart is always dedicated to awakening the sensual qualities of language. Throughout, Stewart's poems carve a space between knowing and unknowing, inviting the luminous and the obscure in equal measure. In a new poem she writes: "The corners, the edge, of each/ thing exposed:/ you walked into a new transparency." It is typical of Stewart's poetics that visibility arrives through a partial shrouding. By leaning far into the uncertain and the unseen, Stewart retrieves moments of clarity. Expression breaks into refrain, echo, an occasional moment of onomatopoeia, even stutters, visual caesuras, and, in a new poem, unsounded symbols: "* blank fog// misting// starless// fog ## and mist// descending// the windlass/ winding static." If, over the decades represented here, American culture has become increasingly frenetic, Stewart's work has responded inversely, increasing patience. At her best, Stewart primes readers to listen with the attentiveness from which her poems arise.