Keith Waldrop, Selected Poems

(Omnidawn, 2016)

Keith Waldrop is not modern. He is a scholastic philosopher living in Providence, Rhode Island, close to the grave of H. P. Lovecraft, familiar with Augustine and Jaspers, Hegel and Barbara Guest, a poet given to the assembly of non sequitur, but not at all aggressive or dogmatic, in fact, a poet of a certain quality of mind that one calls urbane, intelligent, skeptical, observant, conceptual, detached, and learned, but never to the point of strain, given to short lines and clean line-breaks on “the” and “into,” and brief sentences that swerve, so that the non sequitur is never a beak, a blunt disregard but something much more subtle, a straying away into, following the mind where it leads. And quite often, in the Selected Poems, the mind wants to think on the plane of abstract concept, quite often on the plane of observable particulars, sometimes about eternity, or souls, or laws of motion, or bird, or the Emperor of China, or vitreous humor, or “dark spaces,” or sleep and dreams—like a Symbolist, not like a Surrealist—the range of possible thoughts, as Waldrop says of books yet to be written, being infinite. Keith Waldrop is not modern but he spans many traditions, and this is what (how) he is likely to say, in 1983, before I knew him:

compare with
clouds, tidal
disturbances, rising and
dissolving across
a field.

The poems seem to come from a man with a taste for byways—theosophy, alchemy, fundamentalist theology in Kansas—in the syntax of “there is” and “it is present,” as brought before the speculative mind, and wondered about.


Mark McMorris