Drought-Adapted Vine

by Stephen Burt

The bright light of faith and the brighter lights of the outdoors have never shone more than they do in Revell’s recent work, which recommends the immanent glory of every small thing, every day: “The wind comes close to the ground, taking / Colors of bested soil into daylight. / The wasp unfolds. Flowers sing for joy.” As in Tantivy (2012), Revell casts revelations into unrhymed sonnets and sparser free verse: “Something raised us / Out of the dust // Something gave us color.” Yet the work of praise is also a work of mourning. Though “Sunlight answers to the call,” the Nevada-dwelling, New York City–bred poet must commemorate his late father and mother, whose loss and funeral give the book its centerpiece, “the red chapel uncompleted,” honoring both “birth and death.” Given to proclamation, to sentences that prove themselves with music, to Emersonian self-invention, Revell can feel as if he were the first poet alive. But he knows he is not, and he honors other creators: Shakespeare, Hart Crane, William Cowper (“Olney Hymn”), and the terrific British experimental poet John Riley, alongside the ponies of Chincoteague Island and the work of Antoine Watteau, painter of The Embarkation for Cythera: “The beautiful pilgrims, have they only now departed? Have they only now arrived?” His view of paintings, like his view of history, takes him at once someplace beyond time and also somewhere new.

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2015.