Poets and Poems: Luci Shaw and “Scape”

As I get older, I’m noticing something about myself.

Things I didn’t have much time for when I was younger seem to be more important.

Things like art exhibitions. Poetry. Watching bees and hummingbirds in the garden (I spent several minutes sitting at our kitchen window on Saturday, watching a hummingbird flit from flower to flower in the garden).

Maybe I simply have more time. Children are grown and on their own. Work has become less about career and more about accomplishment. Retirement is looming.

I’m paying more attention. And I’m paying more attention to the creative acts, and acts of creation, around me.

I’m not alone in this. I hear friends saying similar things.

luci shawSo I come to a volume of poetry like Scape: Poems by Luci Shaw, and what’s she talking about in every poem is familiar, recognizable, and somehow moving.

The title itself, Scape, is intriguing. She provides three definitions: in botany, “a plant stem growing directly from the ground”; in biology, “a stalk-like part such as the shaft of a feather”; and in architecture, “a stake, column, or support.” The word comes from the Latin for shaft or stalk, and it’s not unrelated to a number of familiar words like landscape. Shaw uses those three definitions to organize the 65 poems in the collection.

Many of the poems are about nature, as one might expect, but Shaw uses the theme in unexpected ways. She traces the veins of a leaf like the veins of a human hand, veins particularly pronounced with age (I speak from experience). Or a ramble upon a rocky seashore becomes a meditation about succeeding generations. Nature, and the creation that is nature, lead back to the pinnacle of creation—man and woman—and to the creator.

She’s also playful. Look at this poem about a rainstorm.

ScapeThunder and Then

Thunder and then the rain comes and the
prairie that has been baked dry and the
shriveled grass and the ground that has
thirsted all summer open like mouths as
the wet arrives at first in whispers and
then in sheets of silver arrows that tear the
air and join like the clapping of hands to
a downfall that makes splashes in the dirt
and grows to pools that shine in the silver light
and the dry creeks with their stones begin to
thank God for sending water for their need
so that there is praise in the rushing streams
and the trees also raise praise with their leaves
flashing and now wind like a fist takes hold of the
house and shakes it and us and it seems that
all the world is drowning in the delight of deluge.

I like what Shaw does here. Notice how many lines end in “and the” or “the.” Three times she breaks prepositional phrases between lines. This structure provides a kind of breathless reading, as does the fact the entire poem is one sentence, and this successfully conveys in the structure of words and lines the sounds and the experience of a rainstorm. The poet not only uses words to convey an idea or a meaning but also the sounds of words to amplify the subject.

Shaw’s poems in Scape remind me of that hummingbird in the garden, its sleek green body and staccato-like wing movements proving a unity of form and purpose as it drinks its fill of the flowers. These are poems about the beauty of creation, and the creative act, written with a perceptive and understanding eye.

Image by Gareth Lovering, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Glynn Young, author of the novels Dancing Priest and A Light Shining, and Poetry at Work.  

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    • says

      I read Shaw’s explanations of what a “scape” was, and I looked the word up in the dictionary. Another concept of “shaft” from Roman times would be the shaft of a spear — which I think is a pretty cool idea for what a poem can be. Thanks for reading and the comment!

  1. says

    Glynn, I bought this book in Seattle at the AWP Conference and have been relishing it ever since. My favorite so far–‘The Clinic’–I could so relate.
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful book with Tweetspeak Readers.

  2. says

    I like this poem especially because she writes about rain the way I think about rain–“the delight of deluge.”

    We’re in the market, if anyone up there wants to send some.

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