Joseph Zaccardi's review of Merge With the River by James Downs
In the poem “Source,” James Downs writes: “Words are in the river”, and it is here in this volume of poetry that the poet plumbs the depths of nature; the changing sounds, shapes and movements of water. The concomitant awareness of the living body and the living spirit reside here, inhabit the same space. Downs uses a light hand in his art, reaching out to the reader with lucid images to find out just what draws him, time and time again, to the river, and in so doing shares this experience; lets it open out.
Merge With The River is divided into five sections. Each starts with an epigraph; the one that tantalized me the most is a quote by Sy Syfransky, editor of the Sun, that starts: “To which god shall I pray today?” And James Downs answers in his well-wrought voice. Here’s the start of the poem “String.”
I have come to this water’s edge
a pledge of sorts to
strenuous wilderness strivings
a ritual of belief in
loam wave breeze dirt
this is my church…
Then he surprises and encapsulates, distills if you will, with a scattering of haiku throughout this volume. These are not simple haiku that meet the forms criteria, though they do that too, but rather poems that illuminate and exalt. Each one, perfect as a whole and perfect in their shapes, can be taken apart and still work, because they are not built upon an anchoring phrase but because they are buoyant. Here’s one in its entirety: “Thousand leaves in breeze / Buddhist bells ringing silence / that follows deafens”. Songs and silences in each line; this is a masterful achievement.
Wonderful as all these poems are in this collection, the poet allows that he’s unable to devote every waking and sleeping moment to his craft; after all he has to make a living, but he is so close, and the fact that he lives and works in Yosemite National Park certainly enables him to focus and create. He writes everyday, and that in the end is what it takes to live a poetic life and to compose what swirls and eddies, what merges with the river. He has become a part of this grand place where he can return and return, as he aptly wrote in the poem “Weather,” “In the wind there is a world / in the world there is a wind / let ‘er ring!”
This is a fine collection of poems by a fine poet, and a fine read.
Bio: James Downs lives and works in Yosemite National Park, California. A native Texan, James moved to the golden state in 1993 and happily calls himself a ‘permanent Californian’. James produces a twice yearly on stage writer’s night, WORDS. James has produced a number of hand written chapbooks and has published a chapbook, Where Manzanita, with Poetic Matrix Press. In his spare time James reads copiously, roots for his sports teams loudly, participates in as many poetry readings as possible and hikes all over Yosemite. He also intermittently teaches a poetry class for children in Yosemite Valley School.
From www.poetswest.com 2006
Copyright ©2015 Joseph Zaccardi