Dispatches | September 21, 2010
On "The Space Traveler and Wandering"
I’m back as Poetry Editor for The Missouri Review, and I’ve spent the last month getting familiar with a fine stack of poems left to me by esteemed former editor Marc Mckee. Reading these sets of poems has been like opening gifts—work that glows with the halo of a dear friend’s affection. For the next two months, we’ll be featuring Marc’s selections as poems of the week, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about them, since I am, like our readers, not the one who discovered them, but instead one who has the pure pleasure of reading work that’s been chosen with great care and attention.
I’ve spent the morning reading Benjamin Grossberg’s poems in our latest issue, a series of poems written in the voice of a space traveler. First of all, I heartily recommend Grossberg’s brief introduction to the poems, as he articulates what it means for poets to find a mode, how the mode relates to the self, and how this relates to writing in persona. Great stuff!
It was difficult to choose which poem to feature, since the poems are a set, and reading them together enhances the experience. This speaker is the epitome of adventurer: able to forgo all domesticity for the ecstasy of longing—a longing more exquisitely attenuated for how it spans light years. It is as if the space traveler’s paradoxical desire to settle down, to live in a house with a husband, colors every cosmic vista and turns them into earthly things: crop circles become the features of a face, and runaway stars are bucking bulls or stallions.
I liked “The Space Traveler and Wandering” in particular for how Grossberg manages to make the celestial subject into a poem about gardening. Not only does the space traveler’s perspective make gardening marvelous, but suddenly the stars themselves pale against the wonder of seeds spreading roots. One line that really struck me was a description of how the crops he planted “uncoiled into spears,” which just barely hinted at the dark territorial side of the idyllic agrarian life. Above all, this poem appeals to me for how it magnifies the compulsion to uproot and relocate, and all the loss that uprooting entails. It is a poem I think will resonate with any reader living in this time of hyper-mobility, perhaps especially with poets who seem particularly doomed to nomadism either by their quest for income, or by poetry’s maddening appetite for uncertainty.
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