New & Selected Poems, 1957-present. Red Hen Press, 202 pp. $24.95 (paperback)
This humorous, thoughtful, and delightful poet expresses a childlike but canny love of dogs, parrots, women, friends, parents. As he declares at the end of one of his best-known poems, "Thousand-Year-Old Fiancee": "Death, there is nothing I will not love." And what makes his work even more engaging is that the objects of his love refuse to sit mutely on the page. They animate, and sometimes take over, poems by talking back to him: directing, arguing, scolding, even jauntily menacing.
This, for instance, from a parrot named Scarlet: "'Hello, darling,' she breathes/looking me in the eye, knowing I know/If it pleases her she might bite my ear off./'Yoo-hoo, yoo-hoo, now you say something,' she says."
Or this from a love poem in which the beloved offers guidance on how the poem should go:
"Make it less glorious and more Gloria." ["For Gloria on her 60th Birthday"]
Perhaps the character who, determined to have his say, most stubbornly refuses to be written about is the poet's father, a podiatrist and Jew-turned-Rosicrucian. This eccentric, shrewd, and irrepressible dad makes his appearance in God is in the Cracks (2006) and in two sections of New Poems at the end of the book. (It's a good sign in a Selected when some of the strongest work is also the most recent.)
In "From Beyond the Grave, the Podiatrist Counsels His Son of Prayer," the father becomes even more lively in death. "So what if I'm dead? What does that matter? / You think you bury your father and that's the end?/Schmegegge! What are you thinking, that the living have a monopoly on life? / Give the dead some credit.
And give credit to a poet who writes with such brio.
--Review by Philip Fried, Editor, Manhattan Revie
Causes Robert Sward Supports
Audubon Society, National Geographic, "Green," the Environment, SPCA...