From the National Book Award–winning author of This Time, a new volume of poems that explore the very nature of existence.
Divine Nothingness is a meditative reflection on the poet’s past and an elegy to love and the experience of the senses in the face of mortality. From the Jersey side of the Delaware River in Lambertville, Gerald Stern explores questions about who and why we are, locating nothingness in the divine and the divine in nothingness.
From “What Brings Me Here?”
Here I am again and what brings me here
to the same wooden bench
preaching to the city of Lambertville
surrounded by mayapples?
For who in the hell is going to lie down with whom in the hell,
either inside or outside?
"I was/ born at the end of an era, I hung on with/ my fingers then with my nails," writes Stern (In Beauty Bright), who on the cusp of turning 90 may now be doing the best work of his career. Admired for decades for his gritty, demotic, heartfelt verse, he won the National Book Award for This Time (1998). The informal advice and blue-collar detail are still present, but his late-life poems are far weirder and less linear. "Mouse Trap," a success in Stern's familiar voice, remembers "the name of/ the ball of fur my former wife and I/ delivered to the animal rescue... outside of Easton," whereas "Limping" begins with, "Space again for a predatory wasp/ to sing you to sleep." More surprises await, as do many memories of the 1930s and 1940s. Stern's free verse derived from William Carlos Williams repudiates old rules while not quite creating its own: his incidents take on their own life, chaotic yet restrained, broken but passionate. Stern's poems have the vigor and the pathos of "a meadowlark you held in the cup of your hands/ and how you reached down to kiss her wet feathers/ and she bit you twice, on the lip and the left cheek."