Running in Prospect Cemetery

By Bert Almon

A review of Running in Prospect Cemetery by Susan Glickman

Published on April 1, 2004

Running in Prospect Cemetery
Susan Glickman

Vehicule Press
$16
paper
154pp
1-55065-182-X

Susan Glickman’s new book offers a full retrospective of her work, which has proceeded down the middle of the mainstream. Her volume has a remarkable epigraph from a seventeenth-century treatise on music, a passage listing kinds of voices, ranging from the sonorous and perfect to the weak, raw, voice; from the mystical voice of many registers to the goatlike and froglike. Glickman’s voice is neither mystical nor weak and raw: the poems are full of good feeling and decent attitudes about the life we share. But she stays pretty securely in the middle register. Deeply concerned with personal experience, she needs a more compelling lyric voice to speak of it – or at least a sense that she is struggling with form.

Her first poem with real distinction is the title work from Henry Moore’s Sheep and Other Poems, a meditation on Moore’s famous sketchbook. Metaphor and diction are ratcheted up a level from her earlier work as the poet seeks fresh ways to describe an animal we take for granted. Like Moore, she wants to make us see the sheep as distinct beings. She observes, quite astutely, that Moore’s female sheep are more interesting and intelligent-looking than his huge bronze sculptures of human women: Moore’s women are “the caryatids / of capitalist temples – every bank / needs one; every corporation can satisfy share-holder / and tax-man with a plaza full of Mama.”

In the Henry Moore volume, Glickman also presents a series of fascinating meditations on the camera obscura, a primitive method of projecting a picture. She looks at people who worked with it in the past, like Mo Ti (who flourished circa 400 BC) and Isaac Newton. The poems are rich in historical detail and varied in style. The sequence ends with a contemporary love poem (“Dark Room”) using the camera obscura as a metaphor. But the personal in the love poem lacks tension and has no engrossing historical anecdotes. Her selected volume is dominated by such middle register poems, except for the long title work, dedicated to Bronwen Wallace, which has some moving elegiac passages. The new poems that finish the volume celebrate or at least mark domestic life (“to the level of each day’s most quiet need,” said Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a famous poem we’re not supposed to like) but the thermostat is set too low. It could be turned up again, though: this poet is only in mid-career. mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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