A Review of The Descent by Bob Williams from
The Compulsive Reader, http://www.compulsivereader.com/html/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=818
Some poetry is easy to assess and classify and some
is not and the difference has little to do with relative quality. It would be well in this context to state right off that
this poetry is exceptionally good. It proceeds by indirections and pursues different perceptions simultaneously with a sound
emotional or intellectual resolution achieved in the last lines. The book is divided into three parts. A rough description
would describe the parts as respectively a hymn to nature, love poems and religious poems. Such a rough description would
be inadequate and partly misleading but provides enough so long as it is not taken too seriously.
Much of the headlong rhythm that governs these poems results from
the generous use of run-on lines. ‘Cougar’ is an excellent example of her effective use of run-ons and the way
in which she finds resolutions.
In this narrow passage I must appear as large
As possible, arms uplifted into what might
Be thought of as God and the ideas of how
To get past even this without being killed,
Taken away, for somewhere in the act of want
Is being wanted, and we move
Over the frozen ground in
One of us will suffer and only one of us will be
Exact enough, which is why I came alone,
Following a creek back up its last place
To see how far I could go, with the raven
Who will not end his
circle, the wind as it
Turns through a gnarl of bristlecone. We were
Never meant to be this close and to survive.
In this, as in many of her poems,
the run-ons pivot on slightly unexpected meanings so that the reader is in a constant state of surprise. She also writes with
an insistent but unobtrusive music. Her sounds are right and rightly placed.
The astute reader will have noticed
that Black draws on experiences – such as encounters with cougars – that are not likely to occur on Columbia campus.
Many if not most of the poems are based on what seem experiences of desolate or desert places.
Towards the end
of each section there is a rise in intensity, the more telling poems although not necessarily the best ones thus occupying
a prominent position. A poem, ‘The Offering,’ from the third section depicts spiritual desolation tellingly.
Up to the point of no return
Was climbed. Dominion
Apart when you asked for whatever last
I could give. All along I thought it me
Who wanted to finish
And that I would know you
By how you finally came. But here at the end,
Borders do not hold, actually
Never existed. I made myself a stranger
To find you. I leaned
Into the wrong sacred, brought
with me. And now the binding
(The difficult act of how much to love)
Loosens itself until only the gift remains
Intact, spared, unwanted.
great poem there is that small but essential twist of phrase that is a wake-up call. In this poem it is “I leaned into
the wrong sacred.” This is very exciting work and its creator deserves to be better known.
About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his
wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music.
His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His book Joyce Country, a guide to persons and places, can
be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places
What they’re saying about The
“Sophie Cabot Black, in her second book,
The Descent, is absolutely direct
and absolutely removed—a strange confluence of tones that is both intellectually provocative and deeply moving….Black’s
voice is startling, jagged and implacable, and The
Descent is steep, precipitous and dazzling—all the way down from a hard-earned heaven.” —Los Angeles
Times Book Review
“Spare to the point of elegance…The
work [is] elusive but enchanting.” —American Poet
is the territory of The Descent—outside
the known, in an untamed place of grave danger and great beauty.” —Field
“In her own quiet, approaching way, Black dissects love and relationships at length, a sense
of longing that’s reiterated over and over and never fulfilled.” —Fairfield Weekly
“Following her first distinguished collection, The Misunderstanding
of Nature, award-winning poet Sophie Cabot Black scores again in bringing her considerable talent to The
Descent. Written in lyrical passages, it is a
book of quiet, almost primordial, intensity in its metaphors and similes.” —The Sanford
“Sophie Cabot Black is an award-winning
poet whose lyrical verse and revelatory images evoke and highlight doubt, loss, survival, and spiritual resilience. The Descent is her second published collection and continues
to document her unmistakable voice and literary talent.” —Midwest Book Review
Judy Ossello: The Last Poem I Loved, “Interrogation” by Sophie Cabot
Black from The Rumpus, http://therumpus.net/2010/08/judy-ossello-the-last-poem-i-loved-interrogation-by-sophie-cabot-black/“When you have me as I’m standing / Against a wall” ignites
memories of intimacy that overcome the who, what, where, and when of relationships. Intense moments have a quality of sameness.
You feel alive in that moment, not specific, and this poem offers some words where there are none. A good kiss has a color,
a hue, a luminescence that “hangs like a valuable stone above us.”
Love can be quick and easy, especially without any social norms governing
exactly how many poems you can love at one time. I’ve consistently loved “Interrogation” for the last 16
It started in college. I had some money
left on my bookstore grant so I decided to buy a few books of poetry. One of the books was The Misunderstanding of Nature
by Sophie Cabot Black, which was published in 1994 and won the Norma Farber First Book Award that same year.
The combination of love and Heroin in “Interrogation”
is so intense and true and well-written that I rarely read any of her other poems. “I lose words remembering to speak”
and “my sex becomes / Suddenly agnostic” while their bodies are “becoming / Sentimental.”
I had never heard of Graywolf Press, which started their
jacket copy with “Sophie Cabot Black is an unabashedly passionate poet.” In her author photo, Sophie is wearing
these crazy long earrings and has some serious early 90’s hair attitude that reminds me of a cross between the movies
Heathers and The Bad Seed. She knows exactly what she wants to say, and her honesty doesn’t waste words.
I’m one of those people who spends a lot of time in
their head. I appreciate the moments when simple physical awareness commands attention, and my consciousness temporarily dwells
in the immediate reality of the physical world. Interrogation captures this odd state with observations like “I keep
thinking / You’re asking me something” until her eyes “start to empty too, become / Exactly like yours,
until all there is / Is a heart, each beat rendering the last silent.”
has a BA in Creative Writing from Denison University where she received the Danner Lee Mahood Fiction Award and Award for
Feminist Creative Expression. She has decided to return to writing after over 10 years and was recently accepted to the 2010
Tin House Summer Writers Workshop in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared online in Eclectica Magazine, and she currently
writes almost daily for www.writerloop.com.