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Contemporary Poetry and Poetics

Review of Don Schofield's Poetry




. . . Schofield presents the parting of love, the haunting presence 
of the past, and the feeling of alienation;  moreover, he creates 
a compelling picture of the Greek landscape;  he has a good eye 
for details.  Throughout, the voice of the poet is a strong presence . . ..

Throughout Don Schofield's Approximately Paradise, the Greek landscape underlies his poetic language.  The feel of dancers, the gathered workers, the living ports — vibrant images of daily life are presented with foreign eyes, for Schofield is an American transplant in Greece aware of his outsider nature.  Many of his poems negotiate alienation and belonging and explore the border of American and Greek literature.  Fortunately, unlike many poets, especially foreign poets who fall under the sway of Homer's demesne, Schofield presents his poetry as a dialogue with past voices, such as those of Homer, Seferis, and Ritsos.  He doesn't lose himself in their subtleties;  rather, he meditates on some of the same themes of these poets:  love, death, war — one can almost hear echoes of the ancient Greek lyric poets through his words. 
     In the first section of the book, "Islands," Schofield presents the parting of love, the haunting presence of the past, and the feeling of alienation;  moreover, he creates a compelling picture of the Greek landscape;  he has a good eye for details.  Throughout, the voice of the poet is a strong presence, even as he contemplates the desire of losing one's self.  Even more interestingly, he presents poetic knowledge as an aspect of the body — one knows through desire and feeling, yet this knowledge is complicated by the crumbling of the body in time;  appropriately, several of the poems in this section discuss death in almost Whitmanesque fashion.
     In the second section, "Sarcophagi," as the name suggests, Schofield presents images of death, not only classical sarcophagi which he describes, but cities under a halo of death, such as Beirut:

                                        My bride and I 
          leave our clothes behind the door and go into
          that empty room.  When the spotlights pass,
          our bodies shine like toppled statues. 

In the midst of locked-down Beirut, Schofield presents an action of tender desire, but one overshadowed by the spotlights, which leave the tenderness as a toppled thing.  In this section the poet takes on the voices of others:  Eidothea, Lazarus, Polyphemus, Callicles, and he also develops one of the themes that ranges through the poems in the third section:  the lost pleasures of the past that haunt us.  This theme is explored in the title poem, "Approximately Paradise," which is a reflection on Masaccio's painting of Adam and Eve in Florence.  Like Adam and Eve, we long for our lost paradise — we have been kicked out of the garden, but we cannot turn to the past, Schofield suggests, but only to the creative space of art:

          The lively browns

          of Masaccio's brush 
          are the range of wants
          we recall or wish
          we recalled as we stare
          through locked glass. 

     The third and fourth sections examine Schofield's return trips to the U.S. to explore his past and finally to explore his sense of belonging, even if somewhat on the fringe, to the Greek society he inhabits. Yet, these poems are not filled with romantic vistas of the past.  When Schofield presents his boyhood haunts, he does so with both longing and regret, as he says in describing a painting of blue pears: 

          And the tinge of blue along the edge
          is the ripeness surrounding our lives
          as we hold to what we first knew 
          of pleasure, the seed

          of all sorrow. 

Schofield does not end the book on a note of sorrow;  rather, at the end, after we have followed his journey through alienation and the past, we see his past and his present come together in a sense of belonging in a community, a sense tempered with understanding. 
     On the whole, Schofield's Approximately Paradise is a well-crafted work that takes us on a lyric journey through an expatriate's eyes, but this is not a work confined to the local; rather, Schofield's exploration of his personal experience — his ups and downs of desire and his contemplation of death — is understandable by all.  Finally, as an introduction to this poet, Approximately Paradise leaves us wanting more, even though we are glad to have experienced what we have. 

Schofield, Don.  Approximately Paradise.  Gainesville, Florida:  University Press of Florida, 2002. ISBN 0-8103-2461-7  $12.95

© by William Allegrezza


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