by Pam Uschuk
Trade Paperback, 106 pages
Pam Uschuk is a master of nature's ceremonies, a brave voice of conscience, and an intrepid tour guide of the heart's deep caverns. Scattered Risks seethes with wildness and beauty. A moving portrait of an elephant ends, "When will she learn her place?" In this necessary book, Pam Uschuk teaches us ours.
— Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Tender Hooks
Uschuk's poems make me want to go into the wilderness, there is so much fresh air in them. Salmon, hummingbirds, ospreys, white deer, robins, elk, beetles, and wolves rarely have had a better human friend than Pam Uschuk. And since she's also a poet, they let themselves be seen in a beautiful light. These poems are inhabited by nature and driven by a generous and passionate heart.
— Andrei Codrescu, author of It Was Today: New Poems
From The Ashville Poetry Review (Sept. 2006):
Pamela Uschuk's Scattered Risks combines a discreet formal deftness with something remarkably like the easy and natural flow of human speech. The result is a collection of poems that can absorb the reader with remarkable completeness from their outset . . .
Scattered Risks is a virtuoso performance in free verse. In this book, Uschuk (whose accomplishments include, along with this book, two others from Wings Press and at least two chapbooks) sweeps the reader into the passion of the natural world, a world where everything always changes and grows in a continuum of which we are fully part. The greatest gift of these poems, it seems to me, is that they make the reader discover and rediscover that fact along with the poet and the words themselves. Even the first poem, "Good Friday and the Snowstorm Keeps Land Developers from Clearing the Woods," makes this clear. The opening sets us up: "Good Friday and ice storms, then snow / whirls its wet lace skirts / buries the canoe, snow crocus, / leaftips of tulips and machines / a yellow knuckled front end loader, / dumptrucks and the jacked-up backhoe / . . . ." The opposition of man/machine and nature seems clear enough. By the poemÕs close, there is a pretty clear statement of attitude: "Snow and the workers go home. / Snow and the silent white curve of the woods / waits for death postponed / for resurrection's promise, / the rolling away of the stone."
The poems, throughout the volume's three sections, ("Attitude," "Theology for the Turn of the Century," and "Scattered Risks,") are so infused with the natural world, so voluminously joyous in their connection with it, that this quickly become a book I want to quote again and again. Consider: "Apostrophe to the dead swamp reed, / a redwing Blackbird warbles form his jetjeweled throat / love's water tenor fluting / up March sun, / the dormant turtle and slow frog / with their mud-locked hearts" or "ice that blinds the fields." (14th Way) Or "the Night Heron opens / carefully as a Japanese fan," and the owl whose "wings rattle twilight / between branches that ratchet / in wind like ships grinding into a pier" ("Owl Songs from the Twilight Field") or even "I am reduced to the sweet rot of hay / cut from the high mountain hip bone of a meadow" ("Theory of Reduction in the Rockies"). Uschuk's phrasing is exquisite and burgeons on the page the way grasses and weeds erupt from roadside banks. Her sense of free verse arrangement is also exquisite: she is acutely conscious on some level that the line really is a unit of attention, and that the right margin is amazingly important to the movement of the whole poem.
What I find most irresistible about Scattered Risks, though it could hardly exist without the dazzling metaphors, the similes that rise with stunning force, the beautiful line breaks, is that this book is so much an exercise in joy the joy of word working, of breathing in the natural world, of sorrowing and breathing in again, of becoming a part of the world that is becoming even as it vanishes. If the attitude so handily established in "Attitude" is exceedingly green, and if the theology of "Theology for the turn of the Century" is (at least in part) that birth and death swirl together in the dance of being/becoming, it is a theology made vibrant by "the mating screech of cougars, the springbok's / death cry, the tender pop / the birth sac makes between the timber wolf's teeth ("Theology for the Turn of the Century"), then the "Scattered Risks" of every thing existing, every creature, every plant, every sea, . . . even that "jacked-up backhoe," are worth it, for they are also the risks of becoming whatever comes next.--review by Keith Flynn, editor
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