Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Two by Lars Gustafsson: Elegies and The Stillness of the World Before Bach

I discovered Lars Gustafsson at a writer’s conference in Boston around 1985. John Updike (my all time favorite author) was the speaker, and I asked him something about discovering new authors. He told me he was on a trip and picked up a book by Mr. Gustafsson for the plane ride home. He was immediately drawn to the sparse prose, and wrote a review for The New Yorker. I purchased Death of a Beekeeper (simply for the title) and The Tennis Players, because I liked the cover. I eventually acquired the rest of his fiction. Recently I discovered that he had several volumes of poetry, and these are the first two to arrive.
Maybe I should have stuck to the fiction. Obviously the same author wrote both volumes, and while the spare, bleak, “Bergmanesque” style works for me in a novel, these powerfully crafted poems are a little too overwhelming. Example from Elegies, “Elegy: On the Surface”:

I still recall the Swedish summer night,
not without being amazed at the actual

existence of a thing. All the clocks stop,
and the “fretty Chervil,” so solemn it is,

so still, it might be meaning to apologize
for the few short weeks of its presence

in the dark integrity of this world. (23)

If you like dark, somber poetry, these are the books for you. I don’t deny the mastery of the language and imagery, just not the tone and the mood I feel when reading them.
--Chiron, 10/02/2007

No comments: