Robert Pack Arthur Oberg - Essay

Arthur Oberg

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Nothing but Light, [Pack] continues to move amid dark and light, loss and praise. But what I see in this book that is new is an extension of Pack's lyrical-elegiac talent to the kind of quiet, careful attention that marks poems of William Carlos Williams like "The Descent" and "To Daphne and Virginia." Earlier, I would have put Pack in the line of very different, older American poets. But in poems from Nothing but Light like "My Daughter," "The Mountain Ash Tree," and "Now Full of Silences," I see the continuing of a tradition which would include W. C. Williams, and particularly the Williams of the poems I mentioned.

What I never seem able to forget in the poems from this new book of Robert Pack is that sense of the delight and pain of being alive, of having to hold on, of using poetry as that means of creating places and spaces (and, again, I think of Williams) for love. But even in the midst of trying to create a greater ease, of moving toward nothing but light, Pack returns to an older Pack, and for me a very essential Pack. It is not a backsliding or a regression, but rather a simultaneous, co-existent sense of something darker and other, perhaps the dark which poets like W. S. Merwin and Mark Strand know and encounter when they, too, move toward light. But the dialectic in Pack never resolves the contraries as much as it tries to keep some of the Puritan tension of guilt and unease that has always marked his work.

Nothing but Light again establishes Pack as one of the best domestic, undomesticated poets we have around; over the years, his finest domestic pieces—poems of sons and fathers and daughters and mothers and wives—place him with poets as different as Robert Creeley and Tony Connor, and thereby indicate an existence for this major, important mode on both sides of the Atlantic. (pp. 89-90)

Arthur Oberg, in Shenandoah (copyright 1973 by Washington and Lee University; reprinted from Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review with the permission of the Editor), Fall, 1973.