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Donna Denizé and Judith McCombs,

Broken Like Job by Donna Denizé .113 pgs. The Word Works. PO Box 42164, Washington, D.C. (c) 2005, ISBN: 0-915380-60-9

Broken like Job is an historical and, spiritual cry. Poet Donna Denizé is of Haitian-American descent, a humanist whose scholarship is classical, and whose essential impulse is from the Baha'i faith. These combined with her present day experiences make up the sweep of the work, operatic in scope and dramatic in purpose. Principal components of this book reference Boccacio, Odysseus, the Bible, but there are also poems with dialect and character-study and contemporary moments. What I describe is a huge range within one volume held together with one theme–it is ancient and modern–the elegy to human suffering.

Jewel of the Caribbean is a 17-page poem presenting the chronological history of Haiti interspersed with biblical reference to Job. It is part news report, part litany, speech and prophecy. I point to the ambition of the piece and its lack of exact precedent. It shows the flavor of the book grounded in historical accuracy and defying poetic convention. There is a rational discourse at the heart of the poems, political, social and Denizé has found a language to cast her vision. Her breadth of thought is ambitious and she seems unafraid to grasp the whole world, poem by poem. The remarkable aspect is that she does not show suffering in a harsh way. All is tempered by her spirituality, which talks of time but speaks within the process of timelessness. We travel from diction to diction, dialect ("Crepusculo") to reverence ("Seedling Remembrance".) Donna Denizé thinks in grand terms. Fortunately, she tackles her disparate subjects and complex structures with virtuosity; otherwise it would be too much for a reader to take in. Denizé has entered many worlds with an ear held to the heart of history, and to the people who have walked its pathways. We come away feeling that it is not so much that she understands the divine from studying history but that she understands history from studying the divine. One of my favorite poems in the book was for Robert Hayden  “Toward the Silence. “ Here is the first portion:

Toward the Silence
                                 For Robert Hayden

For poets, words grow in darkness toward the silence
    of light.
A door opens telling them, more than one way, more
    than one room.
Your composure, filled with the knowledge of
ever-mindful of a singular exit. Poet, a man near blind,
clasping metaphors that give sight, vision. When we
met you, it was winter. You seemed to hate snow that
things one color, texture, one bitter cold feeling. You
spoke of the whiteness that had caused a taxi to lose
its way in city sea, and this day, you were late to class.
Still we waited, waited to learn. And in February, with
approaching, you left us-not winter, not fall, not
spring. A new world emerges when death becomes the
forging order, order that is mine. And that first winter,
I watched you place hands in Hayden pockets to keep
and you gave a prophecy:
    the reasons for poetry: life, and to hold the deaf
    till they hear the word love...

The Habit of Fire: Poems Selected & New, by Judith McCombs. 101 pgs.
The Word Works (c) 2005, ISBN 0-915380-57-9.

Judith McCombs ranks among the best poets of the environment writing today. She has gained ground in a field where Barbara Hurd, Robert Hass, and Maxine Kumin share like interests and gifts.

McCombs has a literary mind posing philosophical questions by using the land. She is a writer you trust because of her ability to clear difficult emotional issues in an eye to eye manner. You would go camping with her in the high Sierras and you would open yourself to her stories of grief, failure and triumph.

The book is in four sections: The first, Against Nature: Wilderness Poems, penetrates the physical world to define the interests of humankind. The relationships to the land and to the self, to friends, to love, are flickering victories in a backdrop of nature's majesty. After the Surveyor's Death chronicles her father's death. The father poems are aspects of Judith's writing which have made her memorable over the years and never stronger than here. We understand more about dying, There's barely a poet who does not deal with the subject but McCombs takes impossible feelings in a slow careful way and surrenders herself into form. Everything else is beside the point as we enter the high locution of her emotion. Territories, Here & Elsewhere stirs the pity of childhood with its confusions, near disaster, potential tragedies, and plain old embarrassments. All is unusual seen from a child's eyes, told by the adult poet. Naturally we want to hear more but McCombs knows just when to stop the story and turn the phrase. A  wholesomeness  permeates this section and holds the reader's hand.

Afterwards is made up of miscellaneous poems seemingly more metaphoric, but perhaps it is because we are moving through McCombs' thought processes deeply at the end of the chronology. "Love, what are we given/ what can we keep?" seems to be the theme throughout. These poems are from the wisdom of distance, and the perspective that comes with distance. The setting is always nature's. There is a hidden moral (morale) so concealed we might have imagined it ourselves. Judith McCombs is the crafter of time and space, the provider of detail, the poet you believe in just like the mountains she writes of and the elements she praises.

Love Poem Later

What I would give you now
is that night in the open
you wanted, the one free summer
we drove west through the Badlands:
we would climb that wind-stripped
summit, and lie quietly down,
sheltering each other
while darkness flooded
all chasms and strata below,
the last light gathered
on our one pale island,
and stars arced slowly.
Past our waking and sleeping.

When I rouse you now,
after so many years
of wishbones, and plenty,
it could be the same stars,
though lessened or lost
in these piedmont skies;
out past the hammock
there is some such darkness
welling up from the creek
to our walls: see, in this late
summer haze, how the moon's shafts
reach through the boundary pines
as never before in our lives,
refracting bright motes
from all the world's burning.

Grace Cavalieri is a Poet, and Producer of “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress."

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