The Runner is an engaging volume of verse. With the very first poem the reader is offered an invitation to visit the past, to step into a reverie of nostalgia and poignant memory as the poem invokes reminiscences through allusions to childhood thoughts and childhood ways. The children’s simple hopes and dreams, the gradual changes in nature and activities throughout the cycle of the seasons is shown within a frame of timelessness. The poet, addressing his remembered self as a child, suggests that childhood has ever been thus: that children have no comprehension that things could really ever be otherwise. The poet speaks gently and wistfully to his remembered self, who naïvely had assumed that life would always be innocent and happy and who had no knowledge of heartbreak. This brief and exact evocation of childhood and a period of freedom from pain and heartbreak, stands as a prelude to the title poem which follows.
“The Runner” is unquestionably the most complex poem in the volume and supports a variety of interpretations. It is composed of nine stanzas from five to eight lines each, with each stanza beginning “Show the runner . . .” and describing a further scene and/or activity associated with the poet’s past. The image of the poet as a runner embodies the central theme of the poet racing through life, stopping briefly here and there but running ceaselessly toward oblivion. The poems sometimes present the author’s personal experience, and at other times the experience of a created persona.
The sensory impression conveyed by the language of these poems is exceedingly graphic. One is compelled to visualize the scenes and events alluded to. The poet writes about modern scenes or those of the recent past. He narrates poems of his own childhood or the youthful experiences of people he has known. At times he writes of men living in earlier periods, as in the sequence of sonnets in Part II or in the narrative poem entitled “Johann Gaertner,” in which he uses his gift for evoking clear descriptive details to achieve a sense of immediacy and vividness while the images frequently take on additional figurative meaning.
There is little symbolism in Gildner’s poetry that could be called unusual or bizarre; rather, it can be understood and enjoyed by any reader who brings to the text an ordinary sensitivity and appreciation of metaphor. The language is fresh and even colloquial in tone, incorporating slang and current figures of speech in the poems about the present. Some of the slang is already dated and fixes the time of the experience of the poem in a special way. The appropriateness of the word choices to the topic and the time frame of the poem is one of the author’s conspicuous successes.
Gildner’s poems are easy to read. The stanzaic progression and the logical progression are tightly organized and clear and provide a well-structured framework for the themes of the verses. Included in the collection is a rich variety of poems of many moods and emotions. Part I consists of six poems. The first poem sings of innocence remembered wistfully; the second shifts to the repetitive mechanical “coloring book instructions” of the stanzas of “The Runner.” In the third poem we have a narrative of suffering, survival, and finally contentment. The scene next shifts abruptly into the world of a helpless young man whose body has been shattered in an accident. The next poem depicts a group of retarded people swimming at the YMCA; and finally, in a short prose poem, a young war veteran suffers mutely because he cannot come to terms with the slaughter in which he has so recently participated. All the poems are written with an intensity of mood and a compassion and understanding for the anguish of the human spirit, as well as a clear-eyed and even cynical realization of the restraints, obligations, and ceremonial tasks required of man by society. The poems are ironic commentaries on the vast distance between the human spirit and the human condition. The role of the poet as ironic commentator is one especially suited...
(The entire section is 1670 words.)