Julia Randall's poetry: spirited creation

February 01, 1993|By Diane Scharper | Diane Scharper,Contributing Writer

According to Julia Randall, "There is no excuse for poetry, unless there is an excuse for being." Introducing the first full-length collection of her poems, "The Puritan Carpenter" (1965), Ms. Randall goes on to say that she believes there is an excuse for poetry.

It is in the act of creating, she says, of "making new."

Ms. Randall, who was born in Baltimore and received her master of arts degree from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, has published widely. She has won numerous awards, including the Shelley Award and the first Poet's Prize for "Moving in Memory," her sixth book of poems. "The Path to Fairview" is a collection of almost 200 poems, of which 24 are new.

These poems show that Ms. Randall continues to believe in poetry as a way of making new. All of the poems here are well crafted. A few of them are among the most powerful written by a contemporary American poet.

These poems were gathered from all of her works, including the early limited-edition books, "The Solstice Tree" (1952) and "Mimic August," published as the Contemporary Poetry Series in Baltimore.

Most of the poems selected for "A Path to Fairview" are strong, although every so often I found one that is self-conscious and flat. Sometimes Ms. Randall's attempts to achieve iambic pentameter and rhyme seem contrived.

It is surprising that the title poem of "The Path to Fairview," which is included in "Mimic August," is missing from this collection.

Generally, I found these poems to be fresh and lively; lyrical, in the best sense, and loving. They peer into the mystery of the spirit -- or rather, not peer so much as let it unfold.

"Is loving leaning all the ears of the body to the winds, and what they sing," Ms. Randall asks in "Loving 2."

Some poems are delightfully ironic. My favorite is "Family Portraits." It sketches abstractions: Beauty, Justice, Time, Soul, Nature and so on.

Here's some of what Ms. Randall writes about Nature:

They have loved me but not in the flesh . . . They take my pictures. Their walls are full of me . . . My face will haunt them. But it will not be the face of love."

"Blue" is another excellent poem. It lists blue things, then takes us back to the beginning of the world: Adam makes the color blue, then puts it on the back of the bird.

The bird flies off into the cloud, crying, "God!" A trembling Adam realizes that he once again is alone.

Two of the best poems focus on the role of the poet. "Tallis' Canyon" seems almost prayerful. The poet, "coming back from sleep, or going away into love," realizes that "I am a moment of your [God's] turnings."

"Assorted Masters" comments wonderfully on the creative process. As such, it also speaks for much of the work in this book. "Oh blessed art," Ms. Randall writes, "that lets us put between ourselves and that kingdom of chaos where we all began a stance, a speech, a scrim."

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "The Path to Fairview: New and Selected Poems."

Author: Julia Randall.

Publisher: Louisiana State University Press.

Length, price: 186 pages, $24.95; paperback $14.95.

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