Poetry Review — Sun & Urn

And always a hellhound be

Sun & Urn by Christopher Salerno is the winner of the Georgia Poetry Prize. Salerno resides in Caldwell, New Jersey, where he serves as associate professor in the creative writing and MFA programs at William Paterson University. He received his MA from East Carolina University and his MFA from Bennington College in Vermont.

Sun & Urn explores and expresses grief and manages to capture the healing side of nature. There is something profound bout the death of a loved one. Near the beginning of the collection, the poet describes the bus ride, carrying his father’s ashes, to the race track. The ashes are spread at the starting line. One wonders about the father. Gambler? The stereotypical heavy drinker trying to make it rich? The poet, also, speaks of his medications and getting off them comparing it to a factory reset for his mind.

Nature takes on the role of beauty in the poems:

call on nature trees maple and oak.
I go to the window
Where the laws of nature
Are sometimes writ
On leaves like love letters
Floating up, star-deep
Into all black holes

Nature takes on an aura of goodness that counters grief. Both nature and art add to the experience of life and give it meaning.

Not all departing is yearning. As the reader continues, one sees the dual source of grief. His father is gone. The poet himself is childless and divorced. The sense of loneliness runs deep much like the earlier mentioned black hole. He also recognizes that the loss of his father is also a call to his own mortality. His discussions move from jeans and soda to:

our eyes still function
with prescription. But clearness of purpose is no guarantee of coming to
any surface.

Transitions in life bring the realization that grief is part of life. Salerno, also, reminds us that grief is the opposite of amnesia. Remembering is part of life. It’s what we remember of the person. The possessions left behind mean little (even if they are little) compared to the life and the hole that exists afterward. Salerno shows that grief is more than depression. It can be a learning and growing experience. It is part of the cycle of life and something we can grow from. A moving and memorable collection of poems dealing with grief, getting older, and still, somehow seeing the pureness of nature.

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