Book Review: Skylight

Skylight: Poems

Skylight: Poems by Carol Muske-Dukes is a re-release of previously published poems giving an overview to the various styles, themes, and subjects of the poet. Muske-Dukes is the former Poet Laureate of California and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship, and a wide array of awards including the Witter Bynner Award, the Castagnola Award and several Pushcart Awards. She is currently the professor of English and Creative Writing and the founding Director of the new PhD program in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. 

This is another collection of poetry I read before finding out about the poet. I do this sometimes so that I won’t look at a biography and think that I have to like this collection. How can I not like the poetry of a former Poet Laureate of California? Needless to say, this a solid collection of poetry. Perhaps it is because of the poets skill that I finished this collection content but not feeling what I usually do when finish a collection. Usually I will read a collection and one of two poems will stand out above all the rest and there will be a line or two that I have to share with everyone I talk books with. It was not the case here. The collection was not the rollercoaster of a few peaks and a few valleys mixed into a steady medium level. Here all the poems were on a higher than medium level with very little deviation. 

“Tuesday Again” caught my attention in the transformation of the narrator and the freedom found in an earlier annoyance. “Ahimsa” is a tribute to nonviolence and Gandhi’s political change after the massacre at Amritsar. “Short Histories of the Sea” capture the spirit of the day when the sea was contained unknown wonders and dangers:

and beside them historians
wrote poems
in which
the sea was eccentric 
tempestuous character

“Census” reminds us:

Once everybody had a place
among the nameless. Now we
can’t afford to be anonymous

and from “Choreography,” perhaps my favorite:

Somewhere, in a garden of jade, sits Buddha.
He is neither holy nor just
but has been carved from stone in a world 
which has invented holiness and justice. 

Perhaps the most moving and personal poems are in the final section titled “Siren Songs”. Here free verse and paragraph form tells profoundly sad stories in a beautiful manner. 

This an outstanding collection of modern poetry from an accomplished poet. The physical style is straightforward and easily recognized. This is a rare collection without a bad poem or filler. 

Open Road Integrated Media reprinted this collection using a special typesetting that keeps the lines in their original form and uses intents if the line runs over the page size. This is a great improvement of e-book readers. Changing the font size or page dimensions often changes the original lineation of the poem. This is quite frustrating for the reader trying to see the pattern in the words and lines. Open Road has seemed to fix this problem and allows the reader to see the poem in its original form. A definite added plus for e-book poetry readers.

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