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Robert sund       
 
For most of the 70s and 80s, poet and painter Robert Sund spent part of each year at his small shack on the Skagit River estuary. There he kept journals of his observations and reflections as well as encounters with friends and fellow artists
from the nearby community of Fishtown. With freshness and immediacy, these poem-like notations reveal the poet’s ongoing artistic discipline based on close attention to the natural world, as well as his spiritual insight, humor, and love for all that illuminates the mind and lifts the heart. Notes from Disappearing Lake captures a creative spirit and an artistic moment in one of the Northwest’s most mystically beautiful landscapes.


Click here to read a fine review of this book by Christian Martin.







Poems from Ish River Country
By Robert Sund

Poems from Ish River Country collects the complete poems of poet, painter, and calligrapher Robert Sund. His few published volumes of poetry and frequent public readings established his reputation as one of the most distinctive poetic voices of the Pacific Northwest, where he enjoyed a tremendous popularity. His short, imagistic poems, in the tradition of William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Rexroth, distill the essence of the Northwest landscape and in plain speech celebrate themes of family, friendship, work and quiet contemplation.

Included here are the poet's award-winning collections,Bunch Grass, which gave literary voice to the rolling wheat country east of the Cascade Mountains in his native Washington State, and Ish River, which celebrated the misty river landscape of the Puget Sound country, a place, in the poet's words, "between two mountain ranges where many rivers run down to an inland sea." But the great part of this collection contains poems unpublished during the poet's lifetime or published only in very limited editions. There is also a generous selection of his
translations, from Issa, Buson, Basho, and most especially from the Swedish poet Rabbe Enckell, with whom Sund felt a close affinity,

    This collection was originally published by Shoemaker & Hoard, and Pleasure Boat Studio is extremely proud to be making it available again.


Critical Praise for Poems from Ish River Country by Robert Sund

“In these poems, behind the spare words and exacting language, we sense a poet of fine observation, an unerring ear and an enormous heart.  We see evidence of what poetry is capable of: transforming our sense of the world and our place in it.”--Holly Hughes, in r Seattle Post-Intelligencer - read the entire review here.

Poems from Ish River Country is miraculous manna from the Goddess of Poetry... It testifies to the Skagit-based poet's singular vision and voice.”--Christian Martin, in Bellingham Weekly

:A welcome tribute to a Northwest icon.”--Sheila Farr, in The Seattle Times

“The best of Sund's poems -- with their echoes of William Carlos Williams, Gary Snyder, Basho,and Neruda -- start in the Northwest landscape and work their way to Everywhere.” -The Oregonian

“What is it that gives me a special joy each time I come back to Robert Sund's poems?  The surprises, clarity and craft; his fresh and accurate eye, a playful and illuminating sense of humor; and the revelations.”--Bill Yake, in The Pedestal Magazine

“For years people have been asking for copies of Sund's out-of-print books.  We are truly thankful his wonder poems are available again.” --John Marshall, in The Goods




In addition to these volumes, Pleasure Boat Studio is now making available a gorgeous  collection of poems and art by Robert Sund. It’s called Taos Mountain. It sells for $45, and  it’s well worth it. Wonderful poems, spectacular paintings.
It’s a beautifully designed book, hardback only, originally published by Poet’s House Press with an afterword by Glenn Hughes.


 

Some reviews of TAOS MOUNTAIN

Reviewer: Bill Yake

THE PEDESTAL MAGAZINE
          Early in the spring of 1991, Robert Sund spent a rare three months away from his damp, sea-level homeland in western Washington State. He boarded in a farmhouse with friends at the edge of Taos, 7000 feet up in the highlands of northern New Mexico, where he soaked up the landscape and native traditions that surround that ancient pueblo. Most nights he wrote poems and created haunting paintings that echo the designs of traditional Puebloan blankets. In early June when he headed back to his garden on a hilltop overlooking Puget Sound (Sund called it the Salish Sea), he brought gourd and blue corn seeds along with his Taos manuscript: "371 loose sheets of plain paper containing—in Robert’s casual calligraphic handwriting—long and short verse sequences, letters to friends (sent or unsent), journal entries, stories and jottings...." ("Afterword," Glenn Hughes).
        Now, sixteen years later, Robert’s friends and executors at Poet’s House Press in Anacortes (WA) have published Taos Mountain, a distillation of that season’s work—the manuscript, the paintings, the musings. In accordance with Sund’s wishes, the book was edited by Glenn (Chip) Hughes. It is—in keeping with Sund’s lifelong aesthetic—integral, unpretentious, elegant and beautiful. The color renditions of Robert’s blanket paintings are especially evocative.

         Taos Mountain contains potent and moving poems, certainly. Yet, for me, the book entrances especially as a whole, as an intricate and integrated response to place. Sund arrives as a stranger and engages a new landscape, working to make sense of a place very different from his damp Salish homeland. He brings himself and his interests fully to the task: friendships, calligraphy, art, meditation, poetry, Buddhism and, especially, his love of landscape and its essential occupants.    

          Being displaced, even willingly, is unsettling. Sund’s initial reaction seems to reflect this uprooting:  

Too many are landless, in the midst vast stretches of land.

Too many have left the land they had. Not only the homeless are homeless.

("Speaking From a Place")

          But there is also the joy of discovery, and Taos Mountain is filled with that.

The mountain
seems in its profile from here in town
like figures lying around a fire.

When you turn away
you can tell one of them  
stood up and stretched and
     sat down again.

Her skirts, her blanket
made quick little winds
sweeping through the ponderosa.

("Taos Mountain")

          Sund stays up nights writing at a table in his host’s home, goes with his friends to ceremonies at the pueblo, to hot springs in a snow storm, to Santa Fe where the setting sun is lighting a cathedral window.

          He experiences the new particulars of this place, moving from assumed generalities to specifics:

I have been watching
these two horses for a week.
Every day they become more real.

("Two Horses")

          He watches, dreams, meditates, writes, paints and cogitates. His painting informs his poetry, his poetry informs his paintings:

For me poetry and painting are not separate. My best landscapes are in the poems. My best ideas are in the paintings.... To bring poetry and painting close together, that is my work.

(from the Foreword)

          The idea of weaving becomes an important metaphor for the way Sund integrates the discoveries he is making through various means of inquiry, and this historical note seems germane: "Weaving in the American Southwest began more than 1000 years ago with the Anasazi.... Until the introduction of cotton, these ancestors of the Pueblo Indians used human and animal hair, fur, and native plants in their non-loom weavings...."

(Southwest Textiles: Pueblo and Navajo Traditions: St Louis Art Museum http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/4aa/4aa325.htm)

          Sund’s poetry-weaving uses poetic materials the way the Anasazi used found fibers. He imagines a vertical warp:

Of all the colored strands
hanging
      down from the sky,

the one that was mine to pull on
was poetry.

Later, painting—
another thread.
a path back into the world.

("Poetry and Painting")

          His blankets reflect earth-tones, crop-tones, horizon-tones, and falling-evening tones. Their names reinforce their genesis: "Shadow," "Mesa Twilight," "Blanket in Moonlight," "Night Blanket," "Weaver’s Dream Made Real," "Red Earth Blanket" and "Prayer for Blue Corn."

          Taos Mountain integrates experience and place: poem, song, prose and painting; black ink calligraphy and color plates; waking experience and dreams that reinterpret experience; and the speculations/ realizations that come as a result of mulling all this over and over.

          Yet, despite the experiences and realizations, much of Taos Mountain remains mysterious. Sund (and we) continues to wonder: What motivates art? What is the relationship between the artists of a place and the other inhabitants of the land?

When the wool blankets were woven

When the jars were painted, using
                 blades of yucca plant

It could have been a plain blanket,
it could have been a jar with
                 no figures on it.
or a grass basket unadorned.

Then where
would the lightening go to rest
where would the streams
                  remember to flow,
where would the willow hang its leaves.
what home would
                  the mountain grouse have

How would the young woman
         remember her grandmother’s hands.

Where would wool go to be beautiful.
and a story go to stretch itself out.  

("When the Wool Blankets Were Woven")

          The questions of this poem evoke native tales that turn questions into lessons, tales that assume that the powers of the world—wind, mountains, snow, sunlight and coyotes—are invested with spirits and personalities making them players in creation and causation. Indeed, in many of these poems, native beliefs and songs appear to have dovetailed with the spirits-and-essences that inhabited Sund’s dreams: the creatures of his poem-worlds, his tools (pen and ink bottle) and the artistic creations springing from these sources. In Taos, Sund seems to have found a native sensibility that augmented the understandings born of his Buddhist practice. This growing Native-Folk Buddhism seems to have served as a creative center for his art and poetry.

          When Sund returned home to the early summer showers of western Washington, we can easily imagine him bringing not only gourd and blue corn seeds, but also the colors of Taos landscapes, new mysteries, seeds of Puebloan culture and a widened vision. Taos Mountain gathers these gifts elegantly for Sund’s growing community of readers.


From TAOS NEWS REVIEW:

Call of the mountain
 Late poet Robert Sund’s latest book was inspired by a memorable visit to Taos

 
Review by Sam Richardson


T
he poem, “This Ink Bottle,” is part of Sund’s book “Taos Mountain” (2007, Poet’s House Press, Anacortes, Wash., $60 hardcover), the late poet’s final statement about his time here. It is a book of reverence, a book about time spent writing poetry and essays and of painting in Taos as the guest of Arthur and Ginny Greeno, former owners of the Apple Tree Restaurant. He visited them for the last time in the spring of 1991, staying at their home on Valverde Street in a room where he considered the most important piece of furniture to be a table where he worked.
  “This is the table I keep,” wrote Sund. “This is my warm spot in the world.” From the west window of his room he could see horses and fields and birds, but looking through another window, the north window, he received his greatest inspiration. From there he looked at Taos Mountain, which became his frequent muse: “Taos Mountain had things to say, and I felt welcome. Night after night and day after day poems emerged — often as if out of the place and not out of myself.”
  The book is edited by Glenn Hughes from a sizable manuscript Sund produced during his threemonth stay in Taos.
  Sund was not afraid to delve into issues of culture while he was here. In an essay called “Santa Fé,” he addressed the conquest and wrote of “Spanish fathers in the new land, bringing the light of the Lord into the deserts ... as though there had been no light here before them.” And he summarizes, “in light of dispelled ignorance about native cultures that have become part of a growing clarity and new-found perspective — it is hard not to feel most grief for the native people, and what has for them been an ongoing loss. And a loss of opportunity for us. Time lost where an understanding might have deepened for the last two hundred years.”
  In Part Two of the book, he writes about weaving and painting, and his art is displayed. He said, “For me poetry and painting are not separate ... to bring poetry and painting close together, that is my work.” However, the paintings don’t live up to the poems. Called “painted blankets” or “spirit blankets,” they are monolithic color studies (depicted on the book jacket), done in tall, rectangular format in combinations of complimentary and triadic colors. Most of them are the same basic design, horizontal color bars done as a blanket pattern. Only a few stand out.
  One called “Cedar Mist” is two bars of burnt sienna on a contrasting field of green set on a charcoal gray background. Another, “Red Earth Blanket,” is bars of red and orange alternated with strips of blue on a field of earthy brown. The others, due to the artist’s choice of color or due to problems with reproduction in printing, appear tinted with darkness as if the artist mixed his palette, then added black to each color. But Sund delighted in showing his paintings while he was here saying, “I was able to throw my stick on the fire of the Taos Spring Arts Festival.”
  On balance, Sund’s poetry is his signature: Clean, crisp, clear. In one poem called simply “Taos,” he writes: “How loving the forest/How provident the mountain/The sight of the two together gladdens the world/New courage rises/And extravagant hope casts long deep shadows.”
  “Taos Mountain” is a worthy addition to the collector’s canon of regional works.


From Longhouse (online journal) review of Taos Mountain.  3/21/07


www.longhousepoetry.com/woodburnersnow.html



THIS INK BOTTLE
   R O B E R T  S U N D

I've used a lot of ink from this
new bottle.

This ink bottle is my wife now.
As good as

                 Mr. Sund,
Do you have children?

All my children
                       are poems!

What I gave them
is what they are.

What others give them
will round them off.

 

Everyone who has read Robert Sund's poetry, knows Robert Sund's ink bottle. It's been with his every book. And to make a specific point of all his books, let me list every last one of them - knowing, somewhere in the crowd of browsers is actually an eager and very hungry and young poetry lover who just might love combing the websites for these titles, or used bookshops or have these titles on a ragged book list in his traveling pocket. I own a few of them found that way: Bunch Grass, Why I am Singing for the Dancer, The Hides of White Horses Shaedding Rain, How the Dancer is Carried Into the Hall of Light, This Flower, Ish River, As Though the Word Blue Had Been Dropped Into the Water, Shack Medicine, Bringing Friends Over, Poems From Ish River Country: Collected Poems and Translations, and one I just handmade myself out of leaf cover stock bought from Thailand, from Taos Mountain. This limited edition from Longhouse is a few leaves from the grand and newly published Taos Mountain (Poets House Press / www.poetshousetrust.org) edited by the poet's close friend Glenn Hughes, who was as personally kind to me when asking for poems to hand publish into one of our booklets, as he is showcasing Sund's poetry and seventeen paintings in this tall, cloth bound, blue water volume. This is the quiet legend of the Pacific Northwest away from home. There is exquisite balancing and in-the-works tempo to this collection, scaled nicely from the poet's visit to Taos in the early 90s and the poems and paintings he left behind with friends. It seems the creation happened all at once in a short time space with day by day accuracy being the miracle. My weaver Susan sat beside me the moment the book arrived, in a pickup truck bumping mud roads to town, and asked quietly with a glance at the paintings, "Are those weavings?" Mission accomplished. Now imagine the poems.
Every day / fresh paper laid out / for the mountain / to wake up on.

Kingfisher Journal Salutes:

Robert Sund. . . and his most recent posthumous publication,

Taos Mountain

From Poet's House Press in Anacortes, Washington, comes Taos Mountain, a book of poetry, prose, and 17 paintings by Robert Sund, his third book and second posthumous collection produced by a loving group of friends and the executors of his estate.

112 pages, 7.25X11 ISBN: 0-9796905-0-8. $60.


Order from:

http://www.poetshousetrust.org/


"Cedar Mist," by Robert Sund, painting from Taos Mountain
used with permission of its owner,
Chip Hughes

"The Ink Waiting to be Heard"

About ten years before his death in 2001, Poet/Painter Robert Sund left his beloved Pacific Northwest for a visit to old friends, Arthur and Ginny Greeno in Taos, New Mexico, where they owned and operated the Apple Tree Restaurant.  It was an absorbing and enlightening experience. How different, how wonderfully foreign, it must have been for him, far from the conifers and green rivers where he grew up and spent nearly all of his life.

Inspired by the region, he visited with his friends until their workaday lives had sent them to bed, then, as of long-established habit, he stayed up to greet the dawn, writing, smoking, reading, and sometimes working on a series of paintings inspired by the native blanket-weaving artisans of the New Mexico region. And with the coming of the dawn, he would go to sleep for much of the day—till just before his hosts came home from work. Then his working day began again.

He stayed in Taos only three months, from mid-March till mid-June, 1991, but what a lot of good work he did there, until he began to think of his garden in the boatyard in Anacortes, and the necessity of planting his flowers and vegetables, if he wanted to have any to enjoy looking at or to eat over the coming summer and fall.

I am not a gardener, but am married to one and can recognize this growing imperative and how it can be resisted but not ignored. Sund speaks of this force in a prose narrative in Taos Mountain, near the end of the book (later edited and organized by his friend, Chip Hughes): "It's coming closer to the day of departure. The planting weather has come. . . ."

Then back to verse:

"It is a clarity, the garden is, that is praiseworthy—the clarity enhanced by fragrance, flower, and fruit." [Page 92]

And what did he plan to plant? Winter squash, radishes, carrots, beans, and onions. A lot of flowers.

                              *       *     *

When Sund died, a little more than 10 years later, he left "a giant manuscript" of largely unedited material from his time at Taos—371 loose sheets of "plain paper" filled with his beautiful calligraphic scrawl in ink, mixed with drawings.  He had talked to Chip Hughes about them editing the manuscript down together to publishable size, but when he sickened he asked Hughes to do it for him. I mean, that is trust.  (It is also a kind of irresponsible desperation.) Sund's method was to compose carefully, look the pages over the next day or so, put them aside, then move on to something new and fresh. So the "editing down" together never took place.

He and Editor Hughes had joked about the Ezra Pound/Robert Frost idea of poets working in collaboration—"squeezing the water out of each other's work." Having to do the work alone, without consultation with the poet, was a tremendous and time-consuming job. Taos Mountain is the result, and we are the fortunate beneficiaries. Hopefully there may be enough material left for a third book, but I doubt it. We buffs will have to wait and see.

 *       *     *

In Taos Mountain, the reader is free to find his favorite poems and each reader's selection will be a different one. And the same reader, in a different time, on a fresh rereading, may be surprised to find that he likes poems he skipped over the first time better than the ones he settled on as favorites the first time through. I know that I did.

  *       *     *

The weavers of ceremonial blankets greatly affected Sund, and he produced a number of paintings in gouache on hand-made paper, some of it made by Hughes, who writes Kingfisher, "Indeed, five or six of the paintings were done on the wonderful handmade Abaca paper I was making at the time in San Antonio, that I sent a batch of to Robert in Taos and that he loved, as it took the water-based paint extremely well--not too surfacey and not too soakingly, with the colors standing out well."

The paintings seem to the editor to be much alike, but each is oddly different.  The paintings Sund displayed at the Taos fair and gave to his hosts are among the best. Hughes owns "Cedar Mist," and gave Kingfisher permission to publish it so that others may enjoy it.

 It actually was painted before Sund left the Pacific Northwest, about 1988, but is "predictive," according to Hughes, of the work he did in New Mexico. Another good one is "Prayer for Blue Corn," which  he gave to Host Greeno and his family, along with several others, in gratitude for housing and feeding him.

This was Sund's Way.

Robert C. Arnold
Editor/Publisher


"Prayer for Blue Corn" painting by Robert Sund, lent by owner Arthur Greeno

 

 

From Kingfisher Journal Review:


Taos Mountain
Great lines, or not? You be the judge

first reading of Taos Mountain:

p. 21, "How is it when we meet we often feel like the remnants of a forming tribe."

p. 57, ". . . dark meadows of sleep."

p. 15,  " the glazed edge of morning."

p. 19, "The ink wanting to be heard."

and certain words showing up, such as sad, tragic, grief, sorrow. These have not noticeably appeared before in his poems.

plus the full poem below, one of his best:

The Table I Keep

This is the table I keep.
This is my warm spot in the world.

A table to
rest my ink bottle on.
A table
with other tables inside it.
The ink wanting to be heard.

Ink whose body is a river,
whose fullness is
to be joined with other waters.

The ocean,
rolling landward
comes home
one river at a time,
cresting and breaking into song.

Each day at my table
I hear the heartsong
      and the lament,
as one by one
the rivers come home.

*   *   *

Second reading:

p. 13, one finds "Letters lifting their feet."

p. 21, "all our clothes lying on and among the rocks like defeated civilizations."

p. 48, his "blanket of poetry and painting"

p. 53, "The grandeur is in the weaving."

p. 31, "the ink bottle is my wife now." [poems being his children]

on p. 29, his poem Clouds, followed on the next page by his note,

 Basho said

"So we don't get tired of the moon,
clouds come and go."

to which I, as editor, shamelessly rewrite as haiku:

Clouds come and go
so we don't tire of the moon.
Come and go yourself!

p. 65, and from the poem, "When The Wool Blankets Were Woven," Where would wool go to be beautiful
and a story to stretch itself out.

p. 67
Take what comes.
Find your grace in it.

Hidden above the clouds
the true treasure lies untouched

The bright blue fire of heaven
never goes out.

[The book's editors have reproduced the manuscript page of the above text (see below), accompanied by one of  Sund's fine drawings.


This poem closes Part II, The Weavers section. It is not my favorite part of the book, but this poem is nice indeed.

*       *     *

Part III, The Path Home, is very good. The poet, living in Taos for less than four months, finds spring coming on fast, and longs for his native Pacific Northwest. It is planting time, and he is filled with thoughts of the earth bearing vegetables, flowers, and fruit. He is from farming stock, of course, though one should not make too much of this link, for not many farmers become literary, let alone poets.

It is home he longs for, sea and sky.

He writes on p. 87, "Between the spinach and the/potatoes/is everything/you need to know." Ah, yes.

On page 92, at the start of the prose/poem, "Bringing Seeds Home," he says, "It's coming closer to the day of departure. The planting weather has come. Things are rolling along, and friends expect me soon.  There is an empty space where I stood or sat or walked or danced. I will step back into it when I get home. It's my work to be in that space—familiar, comfortable, restful, enlivening—to live in it and be alive in it. Specific, particular, and definite."

Perhaps this statement might well stand as a coda for Robert Sund,—his life, and his work in both poetry and prose.

There are more vague poetic echoes of his mentor, William Carlos Williams, in this book than of his esteemed teacher, Theodore Roethke, or so it seems to me. I think of Williams' "no ideas but in things." Each word is to be so precisely chosen that no other word could serve in its place, nor with such a clear definition of purpose and the poem's execution.

Sund is able to see himself as both a person and a sage, to envision himself moving through and cross the span of his lifetime, both as actor and person, subject and object, of a life spent in dedication to the art of poetry. There was not room for much else; perhaps a little music.

His accomplishment may not have been evident to many until recently, including those of us who knew him over and through the years, but the dedication of his friends (perhaps disciples?) Hughes, Greeno, and McNulty have brought to all of us who love poetry the sum of a lifetime of study and practice of his art and craft. Now we are able to see him performing at his best.

That best is pretty good.

If you don't own any of Sund's books, probably the best one to buy is Poems from Ish River Country, which is his collected and contains ten of the Taos Mountain Series reviewed in this issue of Kingfisher Journal.

And, no, I won't lend you mine.

Robert C. Arnold
Editor




NOTES FROM DISAPPEARING LAKE - a review

Michael Daley

Notes from

Disappearing Lake:

The River Journals of RobertSund

Edited by Glenn Hughes and Tim McNulty

Pleasure Boat Studio

$15.00, 98 pages

For Henry David Thoreau's poems at Walden Pond read Robert Sund's Notes from Disappearing Lake. Had Thoreau been less of an explainer, and less obsessed with teaching his fellow men and neighbors, his astute observations in Walden might well have been refined to the minutely focused, musical poems Sund wrote by way of journal entries. By contrast, if Walden was Thoreau's response to several months building and then living in his own shack at the pond, Sund's journals span fourteen years of his life, and also include the renovation of his shack, originally the net shed for fishers along the Skagit River. Thoreau, however, did see it through for two New England winters, while Sund spent those winters in the town with friends. Robert Sund is on the way to publishing more books after death than in life. His first book, Bunch Grass, was published by the University of Washington Press in 1969, while his next, Ish River, for which he was awarded the Washington State Governor's Writing Award, was published by North Point Press in 1983. Although he published several chapbooks, his posthumous collected poems, Poems from Ish River Country (Shoemaker & Hoard), came out in 2004, and Taos Mountain (Poet's House Press) in 2007. He was widely regarded as the unofficial poet laureate of Western Washington.

    Though Notes from Disappearing Lake is a collection of the best of daily entries over so long a time, culled and introduced by Tim McNulty and Glenn Hughes, it is fair to assume that entries not selected for this volume were also written as poems or prose commentary. The editors tell us, "For most of the 70s and 80s Sund spent part of each year at his shack in the tidal marsh and estuary of the Skagit River. His small shack was only a short row from nearby La Conner, Washington ... "

    So, like Thoreau, he went frequently back to 'civilization,' and though sometimes in his

hermitage, he did notlack the comforts of human contact, and did in fact, as evidenced

in many of the entries, steep himself in the joys and lives of others. There's something to be said for keeping a journal in daily or frequent poetic form. "The River Journals" represents, one would think, a practice of observation, emotion, and gestures; it depicts a life lived otherwise, away from the world, for there are no mentions of the news of the day- whose regime, which wars, the cost of gas, bread, wine, no intrusions by government and media. In his October 4, 1978, entry, Sund meets poet, painter and translator, Paul Hansen on a day when both made trips to town:

"We look at the worldsomething

in the newspaper, maybeshake

our heads and

break out laughing .. "

    The image of Zen monks comes to mind as it does frequently in the book, hermit poets

who removed themselves from the pace of the street, the influence of "the world." Two

stanzas later, Sund issues first a gentle, prosaic comment on their laughter at news

events defining the lives of others, and then with more precise, clinical detachment

employs an image at once stinging and rife with the freedom of flight:

You could call it

ritual:

shaking off the

dust of the world-

Like the heron

picking lice out of

his wingfeathers.

Although there arc some brief narratives in these journals-arrivals, travels and meetings with friends, encounters with mice, with a weasel, with swallows, andgeese-Notes from Disappearing Lake reads like a primer in embellished lyrical form.Sund uses his front porch frequently, or the stillness at night, to capture the sound ofmigrations, of wind in marsh grass, of moon and cloud. The poems form an impressionist's gallery, evident from the name he gave the estuary he saw change with the years. It would be misleading to overlook the narrative-fourteen years in tlle life of a poet prepared for beauty, awaiting both a tidal and a personal change, is the story here, much as he did in Bunch Grass where Sund lays down his "songs" during the defined period of the wheat harvest in Eastern Washington. The book has several poems about gathering materials from "the lumberyard," that is, salvaging planks with "tarpaper still hanging" from another shack too far gone to restore, or about the pleasures of a

roof that doesn't leak, of relocating mice and even trying to coax swallows to nest elsewhere.

He speaks of being alone and in two poems combines missing someone with a change he notes in his own spirit. This entry, dated May 10, 1981, seems thematic:

If you're a friend of mine

and remember me otherwise-

It was the time I lost the light

and was stumbling on the way home.

Things change

things change

andl see my life going for the better.

An ancient wave breaks over me.


And later, on May 23, of the same year, in one of the few titled entries, "Lily":

There is no use fooling myself.

Something is happening.

Myoid self and

my new self

are having a long look at

one another.

They are having long, long looks.


Months later, in October, Sund writes an entry precisely acknowledging his dedication

to poetry and the cost he must pay for it:

. Rowing upriver, I thought of you.

You are gone like the summer,

and I am alone.

The oarlocks creak

in the foggy silence,

the river still and dark.

Both banks

are foggy and dark.

I stay warm rowing my boat.


Sund records the changing years by recognizing his birthdays and that he's been on

the river for ten years. Yet it seems changes he notices are not those we associate with

aging, or maturity. It was a mature decision to enter into this life at forty-four, to step

away from the call of academe, and the illusions of renown. Instead, he demonstrates a

recognition of this value which, though it arose long before coming to Disappearing Lake, he

articulates clearly on April 3, 1979. He calls it devotion. This may be one of the most didactic

poems of the collection, yet it reminds me of a George Oppen statement. Certainly the least

didactic of poets, Oppen kept a journal called "Daybooks". In an entry to his first Daybook,

written in the early 1960s, he writes how the mind can be dedicated to poetry: "At least two kinds of devotion. The devotion to art, a sort of pragmatism of art which refuses to think anything which will not contribute to poetry. The other is a devotion which makes poetry of what the mind, the free and operating mind can know-know-and is going to know." I think of the way a computer or an electrical service can be referred to as "dedicated," and understand Oppen to mean something like this, that is, not so much in an emotional sense, one in which the mind must constantly attempt to persuade others, but the mind available, continuously, to its voluptuous art. Sund came to his devotion, and expresses it as a process, somewhat as Thoreau might have, if more succinctly:

TIle man who is not devoted:

he knows neither himself

nor what he has turned his back on.

The mysteries

are all words to him.

There is only a series

of cheap transactions

going on inside.


Before concluding, I hasten to remind readers that this book is composed of Sund's journal entries, and that the poems we find here, unlike those in Poems from Ish River Country, for instance, can easily be termed "less polished." True, some became drafts for Shack Medicine, and many entries were drafts to work on or discard, yet Sund's technical gifts are evident throughout. One example from Poems from Ish River Country illustrates a practice he employed frequently. In "Just Before Sleep, I Dream of my Grandfather returned to His Farm in the Early Spring," the line "he liked to tromp lopsided in a furrow" shows he knew his way around a vowel, the line packed then softened by alliteration or sibilance: "behind his horses ... " He ends this poem using the same technique: a vowel driven rhythm, then alliterative with internal vowel rhyme, concluding with the matter-of-fact:

In the corner of the woodshed near the house

patches of powdery mold

are spreading

over his work shoes


Shoes the poet no doubt wanted to fill. In Notes he shifts again between aural qualities,

in this case in an undated poem, and the prosaic:

Winter weeds

outside my shack,

High water

in the windy morning.

The tops of marsh grass

stick up

above the 12-foot tide.

In the wind, bent grass

writes on the crests of waves.

I sit alone with

my first cup of tea.


The W sounds of wind reinforce what he was hearing so much so we are prepared for the grass like a poet who leaves nothing behind. I'm reminded of Chinese monks who left their poems strung from branches to weather, and Sund's own calligraphed "Wind poems." A lesser ear would have heard "rides" instead of "writes," and a dramatic poet, "writhes." Robert Sund's Notes from Disappearing Lake is remarkable less for the fine work Hughes and McNulty have uncovered from his journals, and not even so much because his practice led first of all to his chapbook, Shack Medicine, in which Sund himself selected the very best from these journals, but the journals are remarkable because he wrote them seemingly without audience. A poet who chooses such a hermitage "turns his back on" not only the world, its "dust," its "lice in his wingfeathers," but on its ears and the aspirations he might have had to a public voice. He abandons the ever-present need for audience to devote himself to beauty alone; for this we can be thankful.


Michael Daley was born in Boston, is theauthor of three books of poems, a book of essays and several chapbooks, his work has appeared in Ajournals and on Garrison Keilor’s Writer’s Almanac. In 2001 he received a Fulbright grant to live in Hungary for a year. His most recent book is Moonlight in the Redemptive Forest.