The Book: William Bronk, LIFE SUPPORTS: New and Collected Poems. North Point Press. Paperback first edition in good though worn condition. North Point published this with tender loving care, with woodcut illustrations and a dust jacket. Subsequently published by Talisman, but alas, in writing this post I’ve discovered this book has gone out of print. What a loss: where’s that “Long Tail” when you need it!
First Read: 1987
Owned Since: 1987
My late uncle Gustaf (Sobin), a wonderful poet himself, introduced me to Bronk’s work at a time when I was writing more wildly, exploring the role and meaning and shape of words on page. Then, as now, I was struck by the beauty and power made possible by simple language. I am not a good poet. In fact, it wouldn’t even be fair to call me a poet of any quality, since my output is slim to imaginary. And yet I read poetry carefully, passionately, and as often as I can, for every writer can improve their work by parsing how the great poets sing.
I read Bronk’s work from a distance. Unlike plain-speaking poets like Philip Larkin or William Carlos Williams or perhaps Elizabeth Bishop, Bronk defies simple explanation or cathartic emotional exposure. Yet his work grabbed me then and continues to do so, for he writes with clarity and grace about the most evanescent of topics. I could never explain his work, yet can only share it with respect and sometimes awe.
I return, and return, to "The Annihilation of Matter," a poem from the collection The World, The Worldless. “A hunked-up moon rode a starred sky,” Bronk writes, painting a sky with as much substance and vividness as the second line of Yeats’s "The Cold Heaven." His poem challenged me the first time I read it, and continues to do so today, and I love it for what it says, what it doesn’t, and the way it forces me to remember what matters.
...Once, it had seemed
the objects mattered: the light was to see them by.
Examined, they yielded nothing, nothing real.
They were for seeing the light in various ways.
They gathered it, released it, held it in.
In them, the light revealed itself, took shape.
Objects are nothing. There is only the light, the light!