In his introduction to the first volume of the Poets of Today series, John Hall Wheelock assessed the task of the contemporary poet as one of rediscovery and revelation, in which a world gone stale must be renewed: “A poem gives the world back to the maker of the poem, in all its original strangeness, the shock of its first surprise. It is capable of doing the same for the rest of us.” That volume included May Swenson’s first book-length collection of poems, Another Animal. In the thirty-five years to follow, no voice in contemporary poetry showed more commitment to that task of poetic revelation and renewal. Although she was often spoken of as a nature poet, Swenson was as adept at celebrating the skyline of Brooklyn as a quiet wood. She was equally at home with astronauts and angels, with swans and subways. If she could bring her senses to bear upon a subject, it was the stuff of poetry.
Swenson’s verse can be classified as poetry of the senses—especially of and for the eye. A good starting point for a consideration of her work is “Horses in Central Park,” a celebration of light, color, and texture: “Colors of horses like leaves or stones/ or wealthy textures/ liquors of light.” A horse is not, at first glance, very much like a leaf or a stone, but Swenson always looks past that first glance to something more. The alliteration in the third line is only a mild example of her wordplay,...
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