Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Saturday, February 3, 2007


Sometimes when encountering a poet’s second collection of poetry, readers receive a much clearer indication of the poetic direction his or her work may eventually take forth into a more mature stage. Even when the first book’s content included many fine poems and displayed a splendid array of technique or an engaging range of subject matter, we realize the initial volume of poetry often served merely as an assemblage of early pieces most likely written independent of one another and with little formal thought to their eventual selection for printing in a unified arrangement. Given the difficulty of attaining book publication for a beginning poet, one expects to find a variety of citations among the collection’s acknowledgments for poems that appeared in a wide assortment of journals, perhaps in a case or two with issues dated over a fairly extensive span of time. Some of the chosen works also may seem to be examples of experimentation, the testing of techniques as the author was still attempting to gain a footing in that path forward, moving toward the destination to which his or her craft would eventually lead.

On the contrary, a second collection offers the author a fortunate opportunity to present poetry usually written during a shorter period of time and frequently with a determined focus on specific stylistic or thematic concerns. Consequently, as surprisingly energetic and fresh as the material in a debut book may have appeared, the follow-up volume delivers to readers an even richer glimpse at the kind of work that matters most to the poet. Although not actually a first performance, one might consider this second book’s look at more consistent and more confident work the real premiere of a poet’s signature voice.

Ann Townsend’s second collection of poetry, The Coronary Garden, provides precisely that sort of chance to witness a poet’s maturing voice assume control throughout a sustained and self-contained stretch of writing. With crucial characteristics that already had been discernible a bit within some poems in her earlier collection, Townsend sculpts a solid new book of poetry. From the opening epigraph by John Clare (“ . . . as birds and trees and flowers without a name / all sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came . . .”) through to the final poem, “The Enclosure Act,” Townsend propels her readers into and out of an unfolding series of situations linked by complex emotional or intellectual connections, moments that exist as if fastened to one another on a delicate chain, perhaps a charm bracelet of marvelous scenes or a garland of images as vivid as bright blossoms in a spring garden, continually maintaining a momentum in which the flow of the whole always remains smooth and steady.

When held up against most of the work in Townsend’s first collection, Dime Store Erotics (1998), a number of differences are immediately visible in her newer poetry. The long and dense lines have given way to a more spare language in a more taut form. The poet’s growing control over her poetry now fully shows, both in terms of mastery and restraint, as she appears sure of her craft and directs readers with a steady hand. Whereas some of the poems in her previous collection seemed successful in their attempt to overwhelm a reader with a deluge of imagery or rhetoric, honed surfaces of the work in The Coronary Garden more often home in on a particular target with their sharper edges, especially in the many instances where Townsend seeks to unite the physical world with the human body or to relate the natural with the spiritual.

In the title poem wounds wrapped in a hospital's cotton swaths, resulting from a persona’s suicide attempt, are described as “a tulip unfolding from each wrist.” Internal and external landscapes become fused: “Oh chemicals rich / in the blood, oh minor turbulent despair, / the sky unfolds, rinsed with bluing, / the crocuses snap open on their crazy / hinges” (“They Call You Moody”). Likewise, the body and art are associated in various ways, including when a speaker says, “my flayed hand and wrist / resembled a stringed instrument, / a tiny mandolin, tendons and ligaments / glistening in their residency” (“Touch Me Not”). At one point, Townsend even seems apologetic for her metaphorical connections between nature and human mortality, as when in “Geraniums”—an emotional poem concerning the death of a “frail baby”—the poet’s powerful and persuasive lyricism leads to a blending of nature and human mortality: “despite our watering and tender care, the flowers / wilted. I watched the boy die, leaf by leaf. // I kept wishing I had something else / to turn to for the comparison.”

Indeed, aspects of birth and death, life and mortality, infiltrate many of the poems in The Coronary Garden. In “Early Days” Townsend speaks of an infant daughter whose birth made her a part of this natural world, “her skin // translucent, veined, prone / to bruising, yet urgent // to furl herself forward / into the mortal elements.” The poet indicates great admiration for the natural world, but she also intimates an anxiety over the dangers humans face, especially the physically delicate or emotionally vulnerable and the young or innocent, such as the persona of “a palsied boy” in “A Door.” In “Mouse’s Nest” nature supplies a metaphor of a mother mouse protective of her nest in the beautifully lyrical lines of a poem apparently written in homage to John Clare in appreciation of his sonnet with the same title: “soft ones, / all spinning skin and squeak // until, no way out, / she stops and stares up / at me, stilled above her.”

Townsend explains in an endnote referencing a 17th-century treatise that coronary gardens were ones “whose flowers were grown in order to be fashioned into garlands, wreaths, or other ‘crowns.’” These attractive and exact poems, which repeatedly refer to images in nature—whether the numerous nearby garden flowers or “ a fallow field in January” (“Childless”) or “a row of stars drifting west” (“From a Window”), have been arranged into a lovely and colorful bouquet. With the unique link of “coronary” to the arteries around the heart and the flow of blood through the body’s circulatory system, Townsend takes advantage by extending metaphors of love and health a number of times. In “Love Poem, Unwritten” she writes about “our first kiss, when my heart / jumped and skipped. The doctor / calls it abnormality, / just a mild cardiovascular / sickness.”

Continually, nature nourishes and aids: “The sun nurses the grass / to its greenness. It’s a warm thumb / on her forehead” (“As for Men”). Sickness and death often contrast with nature’s life-giving force. In “The Long Illness” a speaker swallows her “pills, in sunlight.” She concludes the poem noticing a geranium’s “new leaves, marking the passage of the season.” Yet, she recognizes: “Those come brightest / who come last, as I might flower, / myself, into something finer.”

In The Coronary Garden Ann Townsend’s poetry flourishes with healthy awareness of the physical or emotional connections between humans and nature. However, the poet also expresses consternation over the encroachment of humans upon nature. In the book’s final poem, “The Enclosure Act,” Townsend observes “the soft depression left where the plow passed, / the squeak sound of the realtor’s sign elaborating in the wind.” This wind brings change, one that creates limitations on the enjoyment of nature and causes physical as well as emotional “depression.” When more and more of nature’s lands face the prospect of being sectioned or enclosed for profit, Townsend sees “the fence imposing a human face on the land.” Just as John Clare witnessed restrictions on the land imposed by humans during his time, Ann Townsend’s speaker sees diminishment of nature in “ranch condos fledged by white fencing.”

By exercising greater control and restraint in her poetry, while continuing to focus closely on detailed imagery concerning the condition of her natural surroundings and preserving an elevated level of empathy for others, Ann Townsend delivers in The Coronary Garden a heightened level of poetry that exceeds the already high standards set for herself in her impressive first collection, and this volume may indicate to readers the productive direction toward which she seems to be steering her future work.

Townsend, Ann. The Coronary Garden. Sarabande Books, 2005.

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