Every once in awhile, I find a new author (of prose or poetry, whichever) and decide to get as many of his or her books as possible, then read them in a great flurry to form a very clear concept of that writer’s style.
It usually backfires, because I put off even the activities I enjoy, and fail to read them until they’re all due back at the library. My tsundoku works against me and I end up reading, like, 2 books of a potential dozen.
But that fate has been averted, more or less, with Luci Shaw. I discovered her in trying to find poems about Petoskey stones (which, as you may recall, I adore hunting on the Lake Michigan shoreline).
Turning up Polishing the Petoskey Stone: what a boon! There’s only one poem about Petoskeys in it, but the book’s introduction explains why that title was chosen. Shaw’s friend showed her how the fossils could be buffed on anything – one’s blue jeans, the arm of a chair, the fabric of a car door interior. After a road trip’s-worth of rubbing at a stone, the resulting sheen made Luci consider God, polishing each one of us individually; our particular sorrows, joys, dull moments, energetic evenings, manic Mondays are all part of the process of making us shine forth.
Polishing the Petoskey Stone astonished me with its wisdom and imagery. Every other poem, if not every single one, provided illumination of God’s work through a wealth of natural pictures: frogs, shells, the view from an airplane window, circles, blood. So much of it provided new and weighty illustrations about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
I eventually recognized that the sub-headings within were not simply section titles but the titles of earlier collections. Polishing the Petoskey Stone contains poems originally published in Listen to the Green, The Secret Trees, The Sighting, and Postcard from the Shore. Not all of them, but about two-thirds.
Likewise, a handful from The Secret Trees turn up in The Green Earth and Water Lines; whole sections of Water Lines in Water My Soul; various selections from this and that book in Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation. Where there is any overlap of theme, there will be an overlap of poems.
And yet, the introductions to each book, the occasional endnotes, the different structure, and the fact that good poetry is worth re-reading and rumination all add up to a complete lack of regret for getting them all out.
I tried to read in order, more or less, but the strictures of time and the MelCat system mean that I read certain later books earlier on. Harvesting the Fog is a later book – published in 2010, not the 70’s or the early aughts. I didn’t care for it half as much, as it seemed more concerned with simple description than with embodying the intangible.
I still have six books of hers to read, and 4 more to track down and read thereafter, but I doubt they’ll change my judgment of Shaw: carefully observant, fresh and evocative, somewhat familiar in subject and tone to those fond of CS Lewis (while different in form). I commend her to you all as a poet who will refresh your soul.