Skylightby: Carol Muske-Dukes
IN OUR ONGOING SERIES Second Acts: A Second Look at Second Books of Poetry, poet and essayist Lisa Russ Spaar takes a bimonthly look at second books of poems, which are — for an array of reasons and in various ways — often overlooked. Each column will pair a second book of poems that appeared 20 or more years ago with a recent second book, published within the past two years. In Spaar’s first column, pairing Lynda Hull’s Star Ledger and Kerri Webster’s Grand & Arsenal, she writes:
A second book of poems isn’t exactly like the under-photographed second child, the salutatorian, the beauty pageant runner-up, the bridesmaid, the vice-president, the associate chair, the jumped-the-shark television sitcom or movie sequel, the silver medalist, or the second largest car rental company with corporate motto "We Try Harder." But accompanying the writing, publication, notice, and shelf-life of second books of poems are a flock of anxieties, expectations, and other social, cultural, economic, and circumstantial forces that can often lead to their being overlooked and under-reviewed. Given, as David Wojahn once wrote, that publishing a book of poetry in America at all is "akin to dropping a rose petal in the Grand Canyon," what is it about authors’ second poetry books that warrant our special attention?
We play at Paste –
Till qualified for Pearl –
Then, drop the Paste –
And deem Ourself a fool –
The Shapes, tho’, were similar,
And our new Hands
Learned Gem Tactics
Practising Sands –
– Emily Dickinson, Fr. 282
Musical first names aside, this month I bring together second books by two Carols in order to explore the distinct ways each employs “gem-tactics” in the service of poems that are at once ferociously personal and, in the most poetic sense, public — even political. Both Carol Muske-Dukes and Carol Ann Davis engage in a praxis of lapidary syntax, the effect of which is prismatic, uniting interior states of mind with an expansively outward gaze. That both poets accomplish these acts of compressed, refractive imagination in second books, when many apprenticing poets are still playing “at Paste,” is all the more remarkable and worthy of attention.
The luminous Carol Muske-Dukes was, for poets (and perhaps especially women poets) coming of age in the 1970s, a pioneer: a gracious and generous force both on and off the page. Writing first as Carol Muske and then as Carol Muske-Dukes, she is the author of...read more