May 2024

“I want words to be words”

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce



Although Amanda Shaw has been writing poetry for many years and holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College, her debut collection, It Will Have Been So Beautiful, has only now been released. Whatever the reason for the delay, the book is a stunner.

A poem acting as a preface, “And the stars,” looks out into the universe, and takes note of its beauty as well as humanity’s aspiration to know its secrets: “In and out of the pull of Saturn, towards/a ribbon-thin gap in its majestic rings//Cassini flies through full-fathomed dark/in a choreographed series of turns.” At the same time, the poet expresses the fear of the possible climate disasters awaiting us on Earth: “Headlines today, beside the newest record heat,/of a possible second genesis” and closes the poem on a prayer for some kind of earthly salvation. “Another arc, oh dome of the sky,/may it be far enough//from each day’s loss. From the lupine and the fireweed,/the fleet trail of the flight//of every winged bird of every kind.”

This short poem, with its graceful movement between ideas and images, its simple but rich language, its complexity of thought sets the tone for the entire collection.

Another poem further into the book, perfectly exemplifies the poet’s skill in moving effortlessly between past and present while also looking apprehensively toward the future, weaving the historical and social with the personal.

“You Don’t Need a Weatherman

to tell you that it’s hotter than the Summer

of Love. After they cut back the old forest,

the brook in Stowe that used to turn

my mother’s skin scarlet from shock

began to sun itself….//

‘The War was so big

we didn’t know what to do,’ says a weathered

Mark Rudd….

and after a century of New York’s trash

a landfill in the Meadowlands has grown so hot

it’s frying birds.”

In the activist 60s, the issues seemed so clear, while now the looming climate catastrophe can seem so hopeless—the contrast is rendered quietly and beautifully here, as is the passage of time itself, leading to a poignant and heartbreaking conclusion.

“Mark Rudd’s

a math teacher in the desert. My husband says

aren’t you glad no child of yours

will ask if you were pretty once, as I asked my mom

when I was nine—no child of mine

will have to guess which way the wind is blowing

by its foul small. No one to throw my ashes

in the brook my mother loved, becoming a river of fire.”

In “Where We Are” the poet turns to ekphrasis to examine the need to write:

“’And it was all I had, so I drew it,’

said Elsie Driggs. Clifford Still,

pictured here with all his paint,

said “I never wanted color to be color.’//

I want words to be words

the way my cat wants a shifting patch of light to be a bird

she’ll never catch.”

The desire to express through art and the near-impossibility of fully succeeding have rarely been so well expressed.

The poems in this collection are so rich and complex, they resist simple summation, so I’ll quote a few more passages to give a sense of the powerful and beautiful language one finds throughout.

“The so-called waggle dance

confused me at first,

why above her honeycomb a bee

will move for up to one hundred circuits,

wagging her pointy rump

in a perfect figure 8.//

Still, given a choice, I’d hold with the guy

who guessed they danced for joy.

Let them return to flowers they’ve seen:

no bee is going to the moon.”

(“Dance, Dance, Evolution”)

“When Peleg asked Ishmael What do you see?

the sailor answered in truth: Nothing

but water. A nautical maven, still

Melville mistook under weigh

for underway, switched momentum

and weight. or made them the same,

the captain-heavy ship

weathered by salt and grit,

but surpassing her elders even then,

proud to go down in the strafing storms

of winter, always ahead on the prow.”

(“Nothing but Water”)

Writing of her cat:

“Though not gifted with a range of sound

she lets us know with her clean tongue.

You’ll never own your lives as I do mine,

however well you open doors.”

(“Felis Felix”)

A keen intelligence and a deft hand with words inform this entire collection . An auspicious debut and one well worth adding to your library of poetry.

Order It Will Have Been so Beautiful here:


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Gregory Luce is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
He is the author of five books of poetry, has published widely in print and online and is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic, he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA.
More at:
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives.

©2024 Gregory Luce
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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