Seventy-five members of Illinois State Poetry Society have, as their twentieth anniversary anthology’s title promises, distilled life with its vicissitudes and revelations. Poems have universal themes in rhyme and free verse while presenting fresh, provocative and sometimes metaphysical insights. Humor, pathos, reverie and existentialism, among other diverse tones, combine in this entertaining and insightful collection.
One sample from “Ignis Fatuus” evokes an eerie and contemplative mood:
Stay braced for total dark and call it right:
the ignis fatuus, lure’s apogee
Hold fast to scientific explanation
as lambent flares ignite mind’s conflagration.
A humorous yet plaintive feeling floats within the lines of another poem, “Subconscious Youth,” and describes the speaker’s thoughts about a dream:
lying in my cocoon bed
remembering younger days
with a smile
why wasn’t my name
Festive Bon Ami
or Studley D. Hunk?
Some of the works reflect family and loss as told in the last stanza of “Dad’s Chapeaux” about a dying father’s hats:
Alzheimers’ long shadow would retire
the collection we left hanging for many years.
One day my mother gave his hats
to other people. They never quite fit.
The poem “At Norman’s” captures in a bouts sonnet the yearning for and innocence of childhood:
…In spring we loved to sow
the peas in garden plots, and watch the sway
of milkweed pods and see the bean plants grow,
and walking, pick the flowers along the way
and never guessed the world was full of woe.
In this selection from “The Stars Still Shine,” the reader gets a different perspective of childhood when the young narrator hears someone at his bedroom door:
as they hit carpet,
in the hall outside my room.
lurks beneath my door.
“Storing Memories” illustrates a grandfather’s foresight when taking his grandchildren’s
pictures at the beach:
Sometime in the future
my photos their passport,
for a brief journey back
to this day of sheer joy.
With “Finding Laura,” the poet begins and ends with an historical journey about writer Laura Ingalls:
She shared her family ties to the river
through four generations
and took us on an imaginary train ride
through the Mississippi River Valley.
In a different kind of journey, love becomes immortalized in “My Poetic Process” focused on a beloved’s eyes and a sweater:
My life has been
One long love poem.
“Yes,” I said, “yes,”
To the blue eyes
And the gold sweater.
Nature prevails in several poems including this excerpt from “Leaf Dance”:
But still we saw tiny wisps
of lighter leaves and dust
spinning further away
until nothing remained
but a transparent grace.
Continuing on the subject of nature, “Before The Storm” captures an imagistic view of winter:
Outside the white light I feel
the presence of winter.
I feel the clenched knuckles of
December’s slow yawn,
a memory lingering
“Eifel Tower” examines the relationship between humans and their striving to build
impressive monuments to their talents:
Yet its steel-reinforced base
stubborn as human sins
kept it firmly on the ground
and it was turned into a lance
pointing at the heart
of the sky
A further look at humans’ desire for self-actualization is reflected in “The Cave”:
it is said Adam was first
to taste the fruit
of power and knowledge
leaving little of that
for the rest of us
A closing example of the many other poems contained in Distilled Lives offers one suggestion to what happens at the end of a poetic work, as seen in “Poems End”:
all that’s left
after that final couplet
are uncoupled rhymes
unpaired nouns longing for life
absent their verbs
meanings from missing similes
and the echo
of an angry door