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Thursday, October 21, 2010
Belated Heavens Reviewed in today's Image Journal newsletter
Belated Heavens by Daniel Tobin
In “An Orange Tree in Redlands,” one of the poems in Daniel Tobin’s just-released fifth volume of poetry, Belated Heavens, he writes: “Time’s an eye / that remakes the world just by looking.” If it is true that any observation changes that which is being perceived, “remakes” it, then all artists literally change the world, and perhaps Tobin more than most, for his observations are of an uncommon depth and precision. Under his eye, an Easter connect-the-dots puzzle forming the words “He is Risen” carries the weight of a heavenly sign, swept by the wind into the hedge lining his lawn. A mouse spotted the day after his mother’s death becomes a “fleet-footed messenger from the afterlife,” who came at night “in stealth to whisper the momentous, / then, turning back, thought better of it.” A wailing siren is a “coroner-crooner.” Throughout the book, Tobin probes the portentous, but never in the heavy-handed way of a zealot. Sure, God is in these poems, as is Mary, and Daniel, whose “best self longed for God,” but you will also find Babylonian gods, Koko the Gorilla, and “The Great Cow,” who can heal afflictions with one great, rough lick. Tobin’s sense of form is just as diverse as his cast—Belated Heavens runs the formal gamut from free verse to paradelle (a strict form invented by Billy Collins to poke fun at modern poets who employ strict forms, intended as a joke but now quite popular in its own right). The paradelle is titled “Prayer,” and according to the strictures of the form, doubles its opening lines: “There is something to be praised in repetition, / There is something to be praised in repetition...,” and with that, Tobin has tidily combined tradition and innovation, while echoing liturgical style. Do not miss the culmination of these queries into the nature of life and what lies beyond it in “Heaven,” the penultimate poem in the book, in which heavens of various traditions are considered, and longed for, although at the end, the poet settles for an eternity that is “only a short walk together / to that still, small place where memory is healed.”