by Stephen Burt
“What I thought I wanted what I have tried to be / was the slender instrument that opened // a key,” Grotz says early on, and she gets what she wants. Unfashionable—but sharp and durable—aspirations to wisdom, to a poetry that values introspection and patience over flash and disconnection, drive Grotz’s third and best collection, whose attitudes and rhetoric can echo that of Larry Levis and Robert Hass. “She doesn’t want the language, she wants the something”: That’s how Grotz ends an ekphrastic poem (about Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s A Boy with a Lesson-Book), and that authentic something, that sense of how to live, remains a goal throughout the long lines and large pages of this relatively short volume. “Something falls and falls inside me,” Grotz announces, having killed a wasp; “a glass jar breaks and spills.” The soul, or the mind, is a kind of glass for her, reflecting—when it does not break apart—whatever she envisions: apricots; dragonflies; cherries; peacocks, whose scream makes a scary contrast with their iridescent tails; Zbigniew Herbert’s symbols for poetry itself, a “piano on top of the Alps”; and “Sundials,” which (in the poem by that name) “do not make a shape themselves,” but rather inspire ideas about shadows, about symbolism in parallel: “The roses measure the amount of time we can bear / their beauty, and the candelabra measures the length of dinner on the grass.” Hostile readers may find her (as they may find Hass) talky or soft-focus, but friendlier listeners will see her ambling sentences as invaluable to her introspective goals.
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2016.