Page 12


REVIEW Briny, Sharp, and Clear-Eyed BY DAVE OLIPHANT Asunder by Susan Wood Penguin Books 114 pages, $16. Last year was a banner year for books by Texas poets. The three titles in the final running for the Texas Institute of Letters award for poetry Susan Wood’s Asunder, Betty Adcock’s Intervale, and R.S. Gwynn’s No Word of Farewellwere reportedly so close in quality that hardly even a knife blade could separate one from the others. It surely must have been a difficult decision for the judges, perhaps even a heartrending one, since but a single prize could be given. This, of course, is the unfortunate thing about such awardsthey celebrate only one book when others deserve to be recognized and read just as much. The 2002 Pulitzer Prize for poetry was awarded to Practical Gods by Carl Dennis, a book published, as is Wood’s, by Penguin Books. After reading the Dennis collection along with the volumes by the three finalists for the T.I.L. award, I’m sure that any of the three Texas contenders could have been picked for the Pulitzer, and in fact I prefer the three Texas books to Dennis’s. This may seem chauvinistic on my part, but I assert my preference on the grounds that the Texas books are more engaging as poetry, more penetrating in their thoughts and emotions, and more intimate on meaningful levels than Dennis’s rather exercise-like treatment of the mythological gods. If nothing else, the bumper crop of Texas books from 2001 demonstrates once again that Texas writers can compete nationally with the best, as attested by the fact that Susan Wood’s book won a national prizeselection for The National Poetry Series. Likewise, Betty Adcock’s Intervale has been named the “Outstanding Book of Poems Published in 2001” by the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook. Having already reviewed Adcock’s Intervale for Texas Books in Review No Word of Farewell for The Texas Observer of August 8, 2001, I was surprised to learn before the T.I.L. award winner had actually been announced that neither the Adcock nor the Gwynn book had won. Although I knew Susan Wood’s work and had reviewed her previous collection, Camp Santo, for The Texas Observer of March 27, 1992, I was not aware that she had a new book out, even though I had seen a note in Poetry magazine identifying her as a winner in the National Poetry Series. I was not disappointed that this English professor at Rice University had beaten out Adcock and Gwynn, although I can frilly appreci ate qualities in the other two poets’ books that are not to be found in the Wood collection. Adcock’s nature imagery is evocative and moving in ways that neither of the other two poets can quite manage, while Gwynn’s handling of poetic form is magisterial. Yet Susan Wood has her own strengths that make her work as appealing as anything being published today. In the only rhymed poem that I have detected in her collection \(entitled like Gwynn, created an ingenious stan za form and handles it subtly and superbly. With regard to “Laundry,” the first poem in Wood’s new collection, I will admit to a certain bias in that this piece first appeared in my own 1999 anthology, Roundup. I 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8/2102