A new collection of poetry and prose from Stevenson (Flutes and Tomatoes, 2015, etc.) sings lyrical praises to the moon.
The title of this book conjures the phrase “pillow talk,” the whispered secrets of lovers. But the moon serves as a marker for everything one desires, everything beautiful and remote—a master trope that unpacks itself endlessly with each seasonal change and human mood swing. An epigraph from Bashō tells readers that Stevenson intends the moon as a totalizing symbol: “There is nothing you can think that is not the moon.” Some of the most successful parts of the long poem, which unfolds in slim, careful stanzas over the first 50 pages of the book, draw on associations with the moon to convey romantic love: “Nude nothing of my whiteness / How you tremble / When I almost touch you.” Loss informs the dominant tone: “Now only an echo of love remains, / Against the sky the profile of your face.” When the lovers depart without touching, a sad detail that repeats in these pages, catastrophe results. Beauty and terror converge, depicted in a particularly haunting image: “The moon a phantom ship in flames— / Without anchor, without time.” A life dedicated to the moon is a life in flux, and any sense of balance seems elusive in these lines: “We wax and wane in the phases of our days….Time-tossed, by tides pulled,” the speaker says. “The ultimate question, then, is equipoise.” Unfortunately, the long prose analysis that follows the poems undermines their poise. No separate author is noted, so it seems appropriate to read it as the poet’s exegesis of his own poetry, much as the prose section of his previous work offered autobiographical background for its opening verses. Although the analysis provides interesting notes on inspiration and literary references, its proximity to the poems themselves threatens to strip them of their magic.
A worthy ode that discovers a musing, intense lexicon.