Recently, The New York Times published an opinion piece with the slightly misleading title “Poetry Died 100 Years Ago This Month,” ruffling the feathers of many poets and their readers. As if in reply, Max Garland, a former Poet Laureate of Wisconsin, has produced a new poetry collection that presents final arguments against the piece’s premise, that we stopped writing good poetry because we are now incapable of doing so. The good poems in Into the Good World Again are not just about emerging from a global pandemic; they infuse us with hope and joy after the darkness of our shared global experience and remind us of the strengths we needed to unearth. We recognize the song, but Garland’s new lyrics bring comfort and wisdom. In the opening poem, “Intensive Care,” for instance:
And if there’s a bright surge in her face,
a comeback of breath now and then,
the whole world is reminded
how brief and timely a spark it takes
How little kindling the mortal fire
is still willing to work with
The poet continues to warm his hands over mortality in many of the poems and clearly delineates what is important in this life that has been so challenged and challenging in the last few years–repopulate the dark with your fledgling human light. Garland’s poetry offers us a passport for getting back. It helps that there is so much light in these poems, so much music and, more often than not, a connection to the water he lives by and walks along—I’ve walked to shed the gossip of self, that unsustainable racket—and watches.
It’s the sun-spill and spell-binding that holds me here (…)
then colors with no names,
and shapes like something alive wants watching
and water is the only way to ask
His poetic lenses bring a clarified view of living on this planet with its traveled light, its hibernating worms, its dubious stars: The deeper the listening, / the richer the world.
Such words Thoreau might have uttered; Garland wrote them from his own deep connection to the worlds around him, natural and otherwise. In another world, Garland and Thoreau would be fine companions, observing minor blessings together. His informed framing of all things science in his poetry suggests Garland has a secret Honorary Doctorate in Appreciative Sciences: from the carbon atoms—tiny exiled gods in their sparse garments of motion to invasive species, the sweetness of photosynthesis—leaves… as lush as they’ll get / full-blown, sugar high / mining the air— and astronomical observations that slide into love poems.
Garland’s bio includes an early job as rural Kentucky mail carrier along the route where he was born. Now, thankfully, he continues to deliver profound grace and hope to a thirsty world through poetry that is exquisitely and astonishingly alive.