The Lover’s Guide to Trapping
BY WYATT PRUNTY
JOHNS HOPKINS, 53 PAGES, $23.95
In this eighth volume of poetry, Wyatt Prunty continues to write traditional verse with attention to rhyme and meter. He animates poems with a spirit of generosity, of seeing into the ordinary to glimpse the extraordinary. Prunty’s poetry explores the fundamental striving, the telos, of creatures, from moles to man.
It is clear from the initial poems of moles, dogs, and a wren that Prunty has spent a great deal of time observing the natural world. Anyone who has enjoyed canine relationships, for example, will appreciate the tenderness with which Wyatt’s empathetic voice both articulates and responds to the interior lives of two dogs, in “Big Dog, Little Dog,” written in modified blank verse.
In “The Returning Dead,” the structure mirrors the growing tension within the poem itself, as the half rhymes of the initial quatrains intensify to full rhymes as the poems’ pur-pose unfolds. A formal feeling, as Dickinson noted, follows great pain. And in Prunty’s formal verse, there is the grief of “every static face” of the deceased soldiers of Afghanistan and Iraq, who appear in stark display each night on television.
“Prudentius, Seneca, Boethius, Etc.,” written in blank-verse tercets, describes the Chinese fishermen, who use ring-necked cormorants: So what they catch they cannot swal-low, / Cannot, in fact, but give, if only of displacement. Prunty’s music takes us deep into the motion of the cormorants at sea, through effective repetitions and rephrasing of the lines containing “listen” and “si-lence.”
For a woman coping with cancer, Prunty’s keen description “health was a brutally ex-clusive neighbor” is balanced by the beautiful, mysterious yet certain hopefulness contained in: Diminish-ment-sharpened, as sun-astringent / As the clearing where she drank air, praised light.
The book’s title, The Lover’s Guide to Trapping, is derived from the ultimate poem in the collection, “An Early Guide to Trapping,” written in a didactic voice, as a page from a wildlife guide. The final poem instructs the reader into a variety of functions for successful trapping but opens into a broader discussion of caution, sorrow, and grief. Whether Prunty means to extrapolate trapping of beasts to the entrapments that perplex the human heart remains to be pondered.