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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Tuning: Poems by Kathryn Beam Troxler is a collection of inspirational and nature-themed poems. Troxler’s subjects are wide-ranging; many of her poems are inspired by the ocean, forests and woodlands, and her own garden. Others share her travels to other lands and responses to art and artists, past and present. Her work is taut yet open ended, making reading each poem both a defined and liberating experience. In her opening piece, Chthonic Dialog: On Making Pinch Pots, Troxler paints the process as a duet between the living clay which “warms/quickens/sings to the fingers/takes form” and the artist’s hand which “listens/shapes/refines/guided by/instinctive wisdom/old as humankind.” Her repeated use of verbs in present tense gives an immediate and dynamic sense to the process, making the reader privy to the creation of the potter’s work. Troxler transports the reader to the wine-dark sea in I am an Egyptian Boat, through the consciousness of the water craft: “plowing the seas --/above me/the dark starry night/below/waters parting/before my prow./Buoyant and flexible/I mediate/heaven and earth --”
Tuning: Poems by Kathryn Beam Troxler is a sumptuous feast brimming with sound, shapes, color and motion. Her use of verbs, participles and gerunds imparts movement and animates her world, particularly the natural places that feature so prominently in her work. I loved watching the march of the seasons through her eyes, seeing the brilliant colors of fallen leaves reflecting off her driveway as new ones descend to join them, and seeing how the ice-covered forest “gleams with light/and rings with sound/mad tinkling of melting drops/cascading ice loads crashing down” and, in Lake Brandt Midwinter, how “Sound/like a primeval serpent horn/or mighty conch/deep hollow resonance/plumbs the silence” as “this quick white snake/divides the like/segments the frozen flow,” making the reader an audience to that moment when the lake’s ice cracked with a roar.
If I were hard pressed to select favorites from this collection that appeals to me in so many ways, I would have to choose Trysting with Rembrandt; a poem that resonates with me so deeply. I too am transfixed each time I see his self-portrait: “your eyes/small and prescient, retain/their penetrating power at any distance --/their wisdom transcends time,/binds me to you,/your time,/my own layered selves,/my own history.” In her spare and elegant verse, she captures the effect Rembrandt has with unerring and direct accuracy. My other choice would be Crossing the Line, a paean to the sea and all it touches: “Waves crest, break,/spend themselves in lacy spume.” The image of her stalwart swimmer flinching “as each new inch of flesh/feels stinging cold” and who then plunges into the surf, swimming ahead of waves or getting caught in the turmoil of an ill-timed wave and tumbling along the shore, continuing “until dark/gauging the rhythms of the surf/catching waves -- letting them pass/riding them in until one last wave/carries her all the way into the beach” is unforgettable and powerful, and the reader becomes “sea-changed” just as that swimmer does. While there’s so much to discover and experience in this collection, those two spoke most clearly to me.
Tuning: Poems by Kathryn Beam Troxler captured my heart and imagination with the first words of that first poem and kept me willingly enthralled throughout. Troxler’s work is unutterably lovely, translucent and powerful. Tuning is most highly recommended.