Described by some critics as a neo-Romantic, Sherod Santos creates a poetry that combines the allure of the William Wordsworth landscape and the poignancy of the John Keats ode with a contemporary veneer of mistrust at this world’s ability to sustain the individual, either artistically or spiritually. Though his earlier works hint at a transcendence made possible by an individual’s contemplation of the past and his or her reflection on that study, his work gradually darkens as that transcendence seems more difficult to locate and embrace. In “A Writer’s Life” in The Perishing, for example, the narrator, a poet, tells a prospective student of poetry that some days the potential for joy is present, but
. . . Other days, I’ve found suchPleasant consolations elude me altogether,And this prospect settles upon my heartA dull unshakeable sorrow, as thoughI’d viewed the world from the raw perspectiveOf the newly, prematurely dead.
This kind of lament at the inner struggles of the poet to recognize and embrace the poetic subject illustrates some of the frustration that looking for answers outside the self brings to the reader.
Furthermore, Santos’s mostly lyric poetry often takes a melancholy, elegiac tone, even when the poem itself is not literally an elegy. For Santos, every moment becomes more precious because it is passing, and because the passing is inevitable, every moment must be remembered and recalled if one is to make sense of one’s world. Every memory thus unacknowledged is worthy of elegy. In “The Book of Blessings,” the narrator describes a series of fragmented memories such as watching windfall apples being eaten by a horse, hearing a doctor’s chance word in a hospital, or describing a boy watching television, then places them all in a Book of Blessings that, as the narrator states, becomes filled with “many erasures” and “many passages torn out whole.” The poem concludes with the ominous consideration that “. . . in/ The Book of Death the pages are already/ Filling up, and in the Book of Silence,/ And in the Book of Forgetting.” For Santos, the act of forgetting becomes tantamount to death itself. As he says in his essay “Notes Toward an Ars Poetica” (from A Poetry of Two Minds):And since whatever we love informs the spirit of whatever we make, I suspect writing poems provides me with a way of denying, or keeping at bay, the privileged status of the present—and of keeping at hand some quickening sense of the contemporaneity of the past.
Thus, Santos’s poetry tries to re-create moments from the past, keeping them fresh, then offering them up in fragments or as pieces of a larger puzzle he expects his readers to fit together.
In Santos’s first collection of poetry, Accidental Weather, he establishes many of the themes and concerns that would pervade his later work, such as the transience of experience and memory and their effects on the individual. For Santos, the value of memory, as well as its slipperiness, creates the puzzle for the poet and the reader. In “Childhood,” the narrator says, “. . . I returned/ to this one memory all/ morning and through mid-/ afternoon could not work,/...
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