May Swenson’s verse is, first and foremost, poetry of the senses. Most especially, it is poetry of and for the eye. She is a poet in love with light in all its guises. A good starting point for analysis 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 beyond that first glance to show the reader something more. The alliteration in “liquors of light” is a mild example of her wordplay. Everything words together here. The sound is liquid, the sense of the words suggests intoxication, and the poem is on its way.
What follows is not just a catalog of horses, but the play of light and sound and meaning. As the horses parade by—a “gaunt roan” the color of “sere October’s leaves,” a “fox-red bay,” a “buckskin blond as wheat”—the reader takes in all the riches of the harvest and of autumn’s light, distilled into the colors and the flowing movements of horses. One has only to witness the “Sober chestnut, burnished/ by his sweat/ to veined and glowing oak,” to let the eyes at last convince the mind of what it may have shied away from at the poem’s opening. Swenson’s comparison of horse to oak leaf not only works, it is just right. It is as right as “Naked palomino” compared in another line with “smooth peeled...
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