Richard Luftig, A Grammar For Snow, Unsolicited Press, Portland Oregon, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-947021-95-2, 110 pages
A Grammar For Snow by Richard Luftig, Reviewed by Dan Cuddy
Richard Luftig’s book of poems is a pleasure to read. Though the Loch Raven Review has published a couple of Luftig’s poems in recent years, I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to write a review of the book. Two things surprised me. The first is the variety of subject matter. The second is the brilliance of his imagination. Some of the poems are observational. The poem “Drought” is one of many poems that describe the landscape and life of small town and rural Mid-America.
Out in the back of farms,
Dead, rusted tractors wait,
Impatient for a winter bath.
It has been dry here so long
That even ducks have forgotten
How to tilt back their heads
And drink from the skies.
Little is left that is not
Ash-gray dirt: just dust,
Cross-hatched with tracks
Of long-gone sparrows,………
Or look at the opening of “The Last Clothesline in South Dakota”:
The people there must have been in a hurry,
Leaving the stained, stuffed sofa on the front porch,
Now a haven for field mice. Inside, a dresser,
Its chest puffed out, two right women’s mud-boots,
A headless doll, red toy truck missing two wheels,
All strewn across the living-room floor. What’s left
Of the windows blown out for target practice,
Gape open to winter fields long left to seed.
Luftig captures the change and abandonment of our rural space. The physical landscapes suggest the emotional landscape. The poems are not political grievances but elegies for and obituaries of the proud farmers, settlers that had high hopes for themselves and their children. Objects take on a symbolism for so much. Read “An Old Ladder”. It consists of 3 four-line stanzas. It says so much with an economy of words. And yet, for all the decay—“shedding its skin in splinters from the years….”, there is this hopeful resilience, stubbornness:
And still, this ancient wood hangs on, each
Rung pressed to the chest of this rich, flat earth,
Waiting, no, yearning, to prop up a life again.
Though human objects, constructions, ordering and the given natural landscape are so much of Luftig’s writing, he doesn’t lack for the examination of just average people, small glimpses into larger lives. “Somewhere Over Pennsylvania” gives us a look at an elderly lady on a plane anticipating a visit with her daughter “and cold-fish son-in-law.” Then there is a poem about “Mall Walking”. “How to Write a Poem in a Café” takes a brief look at a woman that the poet sees. He proceeds to create a life for her and a poem about it. This book is so alive with the real world, even when it exists only in imagination.
In addition to the realism Luftig writes brilliant conceptual poetry. One of my favorites is “Irrational Numbers.” Though I’ll only quote the last two stanzas, rest assured the conclusion is set up by everything before it in the poem. However, the ending is so magnificent in itself.
Like us that day
We became one,
Put down roots,
Solid and square,
Seeking the common
Denominator to lives
We thought would
Be as easy as pi.
A Grammar For Snow is consistently rich with poetry. Perhaps it can be said to be of the Ted Kooser, Billy Collins, Jim Doss tradition. You don’t need to constantly be searching Wikipedia or other web pages to get at its meaning and suggested emotion. The poems are comparatively short, packed with much imagery, suggestion of the unstated, and have very little political rhetoric. That is a virtue for poetry when everyone is holding a sword and a shield. I would hope many of the readers of LRR dive into this diverse book. There are “Wild Plums Along An Idaho Road” and the poet himself “Waiting For The Parade.”
© Dan Cuddy and Richard Luftig
Richard Luftig is a former professor of educational psychology and special education at Miami University in Ohio and now resides in California. His poems have appeared in numerous literary journals in the United States and internationally in Canada, Australia, Europe and Asia. Two of his poems recently appeared in Realms of the Mothers; The First Decade of Dos Madres Press. His poems and blogs may be found at richardluftig.com.
Dan Cuddy is an editor of the Loch Raven Review. His poems have appeared in many journals, most recently in End of 83, the Baltimore Post Examiner, and the Bhubaneswar Review.