In Robert Siegel's verse, alligators 'gather like an idea / on the calm waters,' blackbirds chatter 'before heading on / like punctuation scattered to the clouds / floating in a long sentence across March.' In the poem 'Daddy Long Legs,' a spider is a Martian robot and 'the careless aunt whose hair strays / over a face pregnant with black-eyed susans / and fresh currant berries / with babies and poems that flew away in the garden.' Most every poem of Siegel's carries in it that sense of deliciousness and discovery. Not unlike a cow and her cud, Siegel ruminates on all manner of creatures and subjects, patiently chewing and digesting. It's clear he wants to get to the essence of things, but one gets the wonderful sense that he's also having a good bit of fun. Those familiar with Carmen Bernos de Gasztold's Prayers from the Ark
(sadly out of print) will find Siegel to be a worthy, though slightly less devotional successor. His poems lack de Gasztold's arresting naiveté but carry in them the same winsomeness and a pleasing punch of modern complication. But lest I misrepresent, The Waters Under the Earth
isn't just a book of animal poems; Siegel's range covers Arthurian legend, New Testament parables and the weather in South Dakota. His poem 'Carrying the Father,' affectingly secures this collection, its last lines a thesis for what feels to be the abiding premise of Siegel's work: Do not forget the dark / dear past from which all the shapes come, the rich / drift and sleep of leaves over and over, / this soil ever crumbling / in which you lay the still invisible garden.
An Eighth Day View:
"Siegel's imagination is excited by the nonhuman world, and he writes about plants and animals with surprising immediacy.... A compassionate observer...he looks at them as mysterious and wonderful signs of a greater order." -Dana Gioia, in Poetry The London Times LS described Robert Siegel's poetry as "unpretentious versatility" like "returning to the mainland after a tour of the islands." In this latest collection of poems, Siegel brings his remarkable range and technical mastery to bear on the mysteries of creation-wolves, slugs, moles, fireworks, mowing-all through a haunting a weave of mythical themes. Robert Siegel is the author of eight books of poetry and fiction, including In A Pig's Eye, The Beasts & the Elders, and The Ice at the End of the World. His poetry has received a number of prizes and awards from Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Books & Culture, the Friends of Literature, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the NEA, and elsewhere. He formerly directed the graduate creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he is professor emeritus of English. He lives near the coast of Maine with his wife, Ann.