Woven Lightening


Sizzle: Roberta Gould’s Woven Lighting

Gould’s twelfth collection is a field report delivered from the four corners, expansive in breadth, alive to mystery. Rife with intelligence, these poems chart the idylls and terrors of existence. Clearly, Gould has dwelt years within her own “nuance factory.” The phrase (her own) is coinage indicative of an original. We happen upon it in “Wordcraft” where poets live as lepidopterists. Poised to net “the brightest, the starkest, the most subtle,” this trio describes Gould’s captures among language’s long meadows. Hers is a voice of many strata, infused by work in translation, endowed with heft from twenty-five years of teaching Modern Languages, a voice ruled by high discipline to extract the marrow of experience. A fine example is “At The Tule Tree, Mixtla, Mexico,” in which friendship and its subsequent loss are manifested in two parts. In the first, the speaker pours a vial of his or her own tears beneath a tree “near the bird/Who drags its tail/Across the grass/A large grain of corn/in its beak.” The next stanza turns passionate, declamatory: ”Nothing/will ever cut me short/Of the glory and hunger they lived/Those who walk here no longer/Names that were love’s breath/ Thought’s lightning/The color of weather.” The shift from simple to grand, from the single bird seen to the speaker’s dead friends, might be poem enough, but there follows Part II: four lines of deepest grief and effort compressed to fourteen words. The Tule tree is a Montezuma cypress native to Mexico, capable of living for centuries, but the reader exempt of such knowledge loses little since the poem is beholden to no borders. Gould’s border smashing represents one of her strongest suits— she is unafraid to takes us anywhere. Her forays are rarely straight, instead they zigzag, bend time and place and perhaps the body we’ve been bidden to enter, or we become mind or landscape, rendered in a few calligraphic strokes. “Solstice Light” explores the interplay between light and shadow, sensations of land intercut with those of the body. Place and person rediscover and celebrate strangeness; the penultimate line about sunlight simultaneously conjures vision and blindness. “Bliss of emptiness!” comes the cry near poem’s close, an utterance of self and of land caught in ecstatic meld. Exclamations can serve as crutches to prop weaker writing, but are never that in Gould’s hands. Hers arrive genuinely, their placement fulcrums that tip us unsuspecting from one surprise to the next. “Solstice Light” also suggests an intriguing Daphne and Apollo variant—many of these poems have their feet dipped in myth. There’s a Sisyphus poem all too appropriate for our era of impasse. There’s “Jenny,” in which one friend attempts to reach another, first by phone, then by internet. Soon, efforts are eclipsed as the searcher succumbs to questions: a list each of us has been beset by when we’ve suffered broken contact. “Or do you lead the way over the river we share?” comes the piercing end question, mentally stranding us upon the bank of the Styx, watching Charon ferry a boatload away. Not a whiff anywhere until that last line—but then the mythic flashes out—Gould’s sensibility drawing on the whole of the trove, on her ability to underscore the modern even as she mines ancient sources. Elsewhere, we’re privy to postcards from Electra and Penelope, transformed by fresh conceits to repaint longing and to shipwreck expectation.

Against the past, present and future assert themselves as firmly, right from the opening poem with the puckish title “About.” Those involved seem suspended in timeless free-fall, held while “a flashing and beeping surpassed the centuries,” but eventually they stand upon a “millennial hill” wound with a river they confess they “didn’t step in.” Hard not to hear in these lines lineage handed down from Dickenson: wild possibility closing down to eternity observed, full of freedom and sudden halt.

Often these beautifully lucid poems reveal linings of infinite sadness, but humor abounds as well in poems like “Spam” and “E-Mail Etc.” where encounters with Maitlin Pixley and Ashley Popplington offer send-ups of internet existence—just the names let you know what you’re in for, and Gould follows through. It would be remiss not to note how keenly Gould evokes space in nature and dwellings, within the mind’s dome, amid realms of the intergalactic. “Fame,” a lament forged from the latter two, seems bred of a union between poet and astronomer, and cuts to the heart with its ardent striving and purity of self – knowledge.

Politically and socially, Gould’s view is world – ranging, crystalline in how she interprets for us. She fashions no rants, simply angles the mirror we must gaze into—perhaps even pass through—if we would recognize our direction, make supreme effort to change course. “Monster” depicts a chilling reprieve before “the absolute mission is prepared,” the thing observed (a drone, perhaps) generating greater fear since identification is withheld. “On The Eve Of The Fall” offers a civilization already ruined, recollected in afterlife by a Cassandra – like speaker. It’s the doubled frustration of that impassioned voice that stings— negated in life, venerated in death where hindsight’s useless. These poems place us directly at the heart of our perilous world; the very fleetness of this poet’s impressions somehow burns them in more deeply, like an execution glimpsed from the corner of an eye.

“Dear tourist/here’s a wren/watch it fly from my ring,” commands a fairground seller in “Woven Lightning,” and in this, and “Seventeen Ropes,” powerhouse poems at the end of the book, Gould pays wry and tender homage to makers and magic-believers, aware these half-worlds are places too, where confusion and clarity reside. Our task, she urgently implies, is to watch and decide. We cannot relinquish our guard in this world, nor banish delight. We gasp at the wren escaping the ring, whether duped or informed of how the trick’s done. Either way, Gould has refilled us with wonder and left us the wiser.

This fine collection does not stand on any lofty height. The poet asks the passerby just to consider. Her hands are not mere channels for writing but dowsing rods of inspiration. Gould sorts through the sensual debris of life and weaves ephemeral bolts and veins..the storms that are evident internally.
– Robert Milby, Poet Laureate, Ulster County, New York

It’s a pleasure to read Roberta Gould’s “Pacing the Wind” with the bright precision we expect from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry. In her book “Three Windows” we have vital poems that strike chords as in To the Dogs where the poems succeed and go deep. Scads of new readers to Roberta Gould!
– X.J. Kennedy

These are keen witty poems of observation, wisdom and savvy. I enjoy the whimsy, the amazing range and variety and, most of all, the brevity and completeness where she sifts our whole civilization in a mere stanza and gets it right.
– Kate Millett, on Gould’s In Houses with Ladders

The tension between the lyrical and the practical, the soaring and the quotidian give her poetry its arresting and archetypical energy. A procession of gongs and silences, powerful and affecting. A poet to the bone.
– Stanley Nelson, winner of the Thomas Wolfe Poetry Award



Spuyten Duyvil
84 pages
Dimensions: 6 x 9 x .20 in.
ISBN 978-1-947980-69-3

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