I recently reread Michael Anania’s Riversongs. I think it’s been at least a twenty year gap in readings. I don’t really remember my first reaction to this book of poetry, but I did keep it on my shelves. I’m glad I did.

Riversongs was written in the wake of the worst of the late 60s, and Nixon, and Vietnam. The poems in this book return time after time to light and its effects on what can be seen–usually small things instead of large objects (a leaf, for example, not a Chicago building) or vast things at a geological scale (glacial silt or the space between planets). And, of course, rivers may be found in many poems–in the title poem, “The Riversongs of Arion,” at length, but also surfacing in shorter bits and appearing here and there to move a poem’s thought from circumstance to something more enduring if ever changeable.

I was a boy (not yet 10) when this book was published–I spent my free time in a very rural life–most at home with the animals on a small farm, the little ponds where they went to water, and jars of canned garden produce my mother put up every summer. It was a long way from the busy traffic of Anania’s Riversongs and yet, somehow, there’s as much peace–or maybe more contemplation in what Anania writes–the river sludge, a woman’s skirt brushing past a piece of furniture, the slope of telephone wires, the flitter of a water bug, dandelion seeds spinning in the air as if going down a drain.

The book includes a poem for John Matthias: “News Notes, 1970.” The poem seeks to re-grounds it’s readers in the wake of the Grant Park riot and finds a kind of unflinching resolute persistence. Fifty years later, it’s no less contemporary. The concluding lines:

ebb and sounding fall
as ice moved a millennium
as the earth moved extruding
silt compacted into stone
as we move now compacted
shouldering buildings into
place hefting post and lintel
shouldering it all down
cities valleys plains
the intricate dance of greenery
we presumed the world at rest
tread into a widening slag

Jere Odell. Licensed CC BY