Monday, November 14, 2022

Robert B. Shaw

Robert B. Shaw is the author of What Remains to Be Said: New and Selected Poems (2022, Pinyon) which includes verse from his seven earlier collections. He is Professor Emeritus of English at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and has taught at both Harvard and Yale. The two poetry-related nonfiction books he has written ― The Call of God: The Theme of Vocation in the Poetry of Donne and Herbert (1981), and Blank Verse: A Guide to Its History and Use (2007) ― parallel Shaw’s poetic work.

When interviewed by Ryan Wilson for Literary Matters he said, “I haven’t very often made religious sentiments paramount in my work, but because they have shaped my view of existence, they are there to be found in more than a few poems. I think that in certain pieces my view of nature can broadly be termed sacramental. I may not have intended that in every case when I sat down to write, but it is what emerged.”

The last of the “new” poems in What Remains to Be Said concludes with the following hope concerning his poems:
----------"Let them give homage to the Word
----------"by whom the leaves of life are stirred.
----------"What I write now, let them say then.
----------"And let the last word be Amen.

The following poem first appeared in The Hudson Review, subsequently in The Best American Poetry 1998, in his 1999 collection Below The Surface, this year in the new anthology Christian Poetry in America Since 1940, and in his new volume What Remains to Be Said.

A Geode

What started out a glob of molten mud
hawked up by some Brazilian volcano
back in the Pleistocene is now a rock
of unremarkable appearance, brown
as ordinary mud and baseball-size.
Picking it up produces a surprise:
besides a pleasant heftiness, a sound
of sloshing can be noticed. Vapors caught
within its cooling crust were liquified,
and linger still: a million-year-old vintage.
Although one might recall the once ubiquitous
snowstorm-in-a-glass-globe paperweights,
this offers us no view inside to gauge
the wild weather a shake or two incites.
Turbulence masked by hard opacity . . .
If we could, which would we rather see?—
age-old distillate, infant tears of the earth,
or gem-like crystal of the inner walls
harboring them like some fair reliquary?
To see the one we'd have to spill the other.
Better to keep it homely and intact,
a witness to the worth of hiddenness,
which, in regard to our own kind, we call
reticence, and in terms of higher things,
mystery. Let the elixir drench unseen
the facets that enshrine it, world without end.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.