POETRY: In this collection of new and selected poems, Jim Moore looks outward with sympathy.
Gathering from Jim Moore’s seven previous collections and including new work, “Underground: New and Selected Poems” demonstrates Moore’s consistent dedication to the revelatory power of the image.
Moore, who teaches at Hamline University, is a three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award and received a Guggenheim in 2012.
Published in 1975, his first book, “The New Body,” shows the influence of two poets with Minnesota ties: native Robert Bly and longtime resident James Wright. Bly and Wright were instrumental in the Deep Image movement during the 1960s. Their influence is evident in his treatment of the image; he relies on clear descriptions of lucid moments unencumbered by explanation to convey the emotional information of the poem.
He writes: “I lifted the garbage can lid / finding the flowers / from when the baby downstairs died, / … bright yellow, still growing in the darkness.”
As Moore’s unique voice emerges, his emphasis on the image remains. He looks outward with a deep sympathy for others and his attention and precision feel devotional. He infuses his images with a sense of the sacred and profound. He writes of a friend with “sudden cancers / on her skin, one like a blind eye, / … as if she were a worshipper who had tried to scrub it away, / no longer believing in sight by mystery.” His mother folds a tablecloth “as if it were the flag / of a country that no longer existed, / but once had ruled the world.”
“With Timmy, In and Out of Prison” is a tender long poem about friendship and race. It describes Moore’s experience serving a 10-month prison sentence in 1970 for returning his draft card. In this poem, Moore explores how the white speaker’s experience differs from his black friend: “I could assume the next moment / in a way that Timmy never had / … I was free.”
In 1975, Moore survived the bombing of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which killed 11 people. It took him more than 10 years to write about it in a rangy long poem called “Terror’s Only Epitaph.” “Don’t try to say we were brave / we never had time for that … Heart- /sickening is the only epitaph.”
Moore’s experiments with long narrative poems are often followed by poems of just a half a dozen lines limning a single image.
Many of his poems deal with loss and death, but even then he offers the moments — few and far between — where everything seems perfect: “Every morning at dawn the crooked tree comes back from the darkness, like an old retired professor. The professor emeritus of stillness, refusing to give up even on his slowest student.”
In his second book, “The Freedom of History,” he writes “If, at 44, you begin to learn / you are not, after all, the point of the world, / what then?” In his nearly 40-year career as a published poet, Moore has answered that question by looking outward to write about the world with humility and compassion.
Elizabeth Hoover is the assistant director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.