Book Review: Stones of the Sky

“Break yourself open at the breaking point,
you, body of the one I love,
into another genesis, into the cataclysm…”

In another life, I planned to be a poet. I spent hours perfecting the craft of iambic pentameter and the beauty of haiku. I wanted to share my world in the ways of Annie Dillard and Carolyn Kizer. I dreamed to write the revolutionary poems of my generation, to echo the energy and moment of Audre Lorde and bell hooks. Somewhere on the journey, though, poetry got pushed aside for creative nonfiction and the radical energy was channeled into action, not words.

But on a cold winter night, when the rain outside freezes before the ground, I want to curl up with a book of poems and a cup of tea and not consider the challenges we face every day. One of the few poets who returns to my life over and over again is Pablo Neruda. Best known for his love poems and his prolific writing, Neruda is a watcher, a seer of beauty in all moments. Though I believe poetry is best read in its original language, I have found that the Copper Canyon Press translations are most delightful to my eyes and ears.

In Stones of the Sky, we find a collection of thirty poems written to Nature, a being worthy of the greatest love. Deepened by his love of the Chilean landscape of his birth, Neruda writes to crystals, stones, birds, water, and trees with a clarity that comes from years of romance. His language, with a unique command of description that is evocative but not overwhelming, brings each sense present to the scene of love he describes. With a translation by James Nolan that faces the original Spanish for every poem, this version is more than just a book of poetry. It’s a record. A memory.

The succulent
had not only clouds,
not only space smelling of oxygen,
but an earthly stone
flashing here and there
changed into a dove,
changed into a bell,
into immensity, into a piercing
into a phosphorescent arrow,
into salt of the sky.

In the deepest parts of winter, I reach for the sunlight, however it may appear.

In a poem, a song, a cup of tea with a friend, the smile of a stranger. We walk so silently, so loudly, through this journey, and I wonder how often we miss these moments on sunlight. Poetry, of the love kind or the nature kind or the all kinds, poetry is my window into that bright April day when the air is crisp and the learning is deep. Neruda, or Audre Lorde, or Annie Dillard, or you — these are the poets of my heart.

What is your favorite poem? Who is your favorite poet?

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Stones of the Sky

  1. Lovely lovely lovely.
    My favorite poet is Mary Oliver, sometimes Rumi, sometimes Nikki Giovanni, depending on my mood. I’d like to read more poems – they get into you in a way prose does not. I always think they touch my unconscious instead of my conscious. There’s a healing power in them.

  2. My favorite poem was discovered at the age of ten, when I opened “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London for the first time. At the very beginning, by an anonymous writer, was written:

    Old longings nomadic leap
    Chafing at custom’s chain
    Stirring from its brumal sleep
    Awakens the ferine strain.”

    I must say–that is the poem I always remember best, because I’ve always had a respect and longing for the deeper, primal aspects we sometimes forget of ourselves. And it was at age ten, that “Call of the Wild” became my favorite childhood book. The poem, and the book, spoke of those wild, natural powers that lie within us. I love words that reflect that which is really there–devoid of modern custom, popularity, or belief.

  3. Often Mary Oliver. Even though I know he’s considered light and easy, I see an edge in Robert Frost’s poems that I’ve always loved. Naomi Shihab Nye. Roethke. Hazel Hall, but more for her story than her actual words. (Though I enjoy the words, too.) William Stafford. Some of Jane Kenyon; “Let Evening Come” is one of my favorite poems, ever.

  4. Thanks for the suggestion, I use patterns in nature to inspire my art and love poetry for its distilled brevity. I keep returning to Ted Hughes: River, a whole book of river poems with photos by Peter Keen. Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill (O’Donnell in English): Selected Poems translated by Michael Hartnet is very much a woman’s approach to life that inherently uses the landscape as expression due to the nature of the Irish language and culture.
    Rita, Frost may be an easy read but he is deceptively so, I find him deep and subtle; small wonder that he is used in schools on both sides of the Atlantic.

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