In “The Philosopher Savant Crosses the River,” Rustin Larson now winds his words several notches closer to a phantom sense of the certainties we once thought we could assume — the way life promised a few solid things, perhaps “the purpose of life,” which now seems sold door to door as “an abrupt change,” if anything. Words in their ordinary sense have been released from those customary connections, and often seem spoken from a place of floating far below meaning’s surface, as if a sedimentia abounding in the reasoning of tea leaves or some other structure of correspondence beyond our normal grasp were sending messages to the surface of the page. — Audrey Bohanan
Review: HOWLING ENIGMA by RUSTIN LARSON
Reviewed by Hélène Cardona
Rustin Larson’s Howling Enigma begins with a cornucopia of fruit and flowers amid the snow filled landscape of Iowa, where “Beowulf lives.” He describes it at times welcoming, in bloom, with “herbs / the Gerber daisies, the fall violets, the dandelion greens” and “mulberry seedlings,” and at times stark, with “pale frost on the window,” “the snow’s endless and cascading curtain” and where “sitting / in the sun is just a fantasy. / It’s six above zero.”
A deeply moving tribute to his parents and ancestors, this is a haunted collection where Larson spends “time with those who have gone on before me.” Memories, photos and dreams bring his kin back: “I still talk to my father in dreams. / Sometimes I see my mother from a distance.” Emotions are sparse yet hit you hard: “My grandmother hugged me / the way a mountain hugs stone.”
Like a leitmotiv, underneath it all, solitude.
“I wind up in places
that just seem to underline
the nature of solitude.”
And what a treat for the reader to share Larson’s solitude, which echoes Rilke:
“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”
Larson has gifted us a book of mournful love, filled with nature and animals, a far-reaching goodness that permeates all in spite of the darkness he embraces.
You are Golden Buddha. You are the light
Of the world. I say this in my head to
Everyone. A fine electrical night
Hums with water, carbon molecules, through-
Out the Eastern Seaboard. Computers fail
In the morning, a cool day, a brilliant blue,
For miles. I don’t see you much in the pale
Light. You are my other soul. In the night,
We lie next to each other for hours: ale
Bottles, groves of trees dripping with light,
A waterfall lit by lanterns: babies
Cry in their own language lit by the tight
Hooks and loops of alphabet, flower dyes
Soaked to color the body, soul, and sky.
Such an ode keeps the darkness at bay.
“At night, I sit on my lawn and stare into the darkness.”
Larson’s poems are bridges, hovering between the living and the dead, light and dark, where the past and the future are intertwined, and a guitar plays in the background.
Like Berryman’s ghost, Larson casts a spell with poems full of “imagination, love, intellect—and pain.”
The poet’s meticulous observations of his surroundings and every day life, such as the “patterns in the wind” read like tender – at times disquieted – unfolding stories, his vast spirit and benevolence permeating everything.
Naomi Shihab Nye wrote that Larson’s words “always ring true” to her. They do. There is never a false note in Larson’s poetry. They slow time to a more propitious pacing, acting as a balm. What a wondrous meditation, from which the reader returns soothed, and vibrant.
[Review first appeared in North of Oxford]~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Hélène Cardona is a poet, actor & translator, the author of 7 books, including the award-winning Life in Suspension and the translations Birnam Wood (José Manuel Cardona), Beyond Elsewhere (Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac), winner of a Hemingway Grant, Ce que nous portons (Dorianne Laux), and Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for WhitmanWeb.
She wrote her thesis on Henry James for her masters in American Literature from the Sorbonne, taught at Hamilton College and Loyola Marymount University, and worked as an interpreter for the Canadian Embassy in Paris. Her work has been translated into 16 languages. She has contributed to The London Magazine, Washington Square Review, World Literature Today, Poetry International, The Brooklyn Rail, Asymptote, The Irish Literary Times, Los Angeles Review, The Warwick Review & elsewhere.