A book of the author’s original verse along with his translations of works by Horace and three French Renaissance poets.
As the title implies, this debut collection has two sections. The first, “Vermont, Oregon and Elsewhere: Selected Poems,” consists of poems the author wrote mainly in the last three decades of the 20th century. These poems tend to describe simple pleasures in clear language and concrete images, such as a reference to “olive-fat mosquitoes,” a well-turned phrase in “Mediterranean.” Other works in the first part of the book have titles that suggest their subjects, including “Night Spider,” “Moon,” “Vermont Sun” and “Oregon Rain.” In this section, Malamud occasionally experiments with free verse but more often uses traditional rhyme schemes, as in “Corvallis, 1957,” which deals with a cherished childhood memory of dusk spent in good company: “With unbound energy and breath, I race / laughing and screaming, braking in the dirt — / my friend, a blurred old bike and pale face — / the night air rippling in my cotton shirt.” The narrator of the poem, basking in the exhilarating freedom of youth, then heads home, “happiness pinned like medals to my chest.” The second part of the collection, “Ten From Horace, Three From The French,” has the author’s translations of some of the ancient Roman poet’s odes and of one work from each of three writers of the French Renaissance. This part of the book begins by mentioning some of the challenges of translating poetry, such as whether or not to preserve meter and rhyme, and explaining how the author dealt with them. It then offers a brief introduction to Horace and his times, written in a conversational style: “Much of his poetry consists of criticism of luxury and poor taste, and he is given to reminding wealthy friends in verse, that they are going to die soon. Yet, his satire has a laid-back, jovial quality.” Modern readers may especially relate to an ode that urges people to seize the day because they do not know what the future holds. Similarly, the author’s translation of Jean Vauquelin de la Fresnaye’s poem “Déja, venant hérissonné” conveys the universal uneasiness that often accompanies the approach of winter.
A down-to-earth collection of poems and translations on subjects that cover literary terrain ranging from Vermont to ancient Rome.