Lamont Prize winner Mary Jo Salter (UNFINISHED PAINTING, 1989) speaks in a subtle voice in SUNDAY SKATERS. The poems are softly spoken, formally crafted, quiet and thoughtful in tone. They can go from dark to playful to witty. Some combine those moods in one piece, as in the opening poem, “What Do Women Want?”
The book is divided into four sections. Part 1, “A Benediction,” is about marriage, primarily. A bittersweet toast to “The Twelfth Year” is followed by a narrative complaint on moving and the poem “A Benediction,” a sort of blessing cum warning to young marrieds. Other poems survey an overheard argument in a cafe, or describe a couple’s kiss voyeuristically and ruefully, as if the narrator were remembering some unkept, unspoken promise. Part 2 has poems inspired by Salter’s children, including a lullaby, a lament, a broken collar bone, and the poem “Two Prayers.”
Part 3 is a poetic almanac of the author’s travels in Iceland. It contains this collection’s most beautiful visual passages, as well as the best poem in the book, the dark “Letter from America.” Part 4 comments on Thomas Jefferson’s alleged affair with the Italian Maria Cosway. Salter includes some compassionate ruminations on love and hope conflicting with duty and with age. “Frost at Midnight” presents the poet Robert Frost as a complex and paradoxical personality, and tries to suggest what effect he had on his family.
SUNDAY SKATERS is a warm and forgiving book rather than an impassioned one. Its wisdom is economical and its grace, very exact.