Sarah White, Iridescent Guest, Deerbrook Editions, 2020, ISBN: 978-1-7343884-3-5. 86 pp. $18.
I live in the country, so I spend a lot of time outdoors. When I received Sarah White’s new book of poems, Iridescent Guest, I sat on my patio to read it. From time to time I had to look up from the book – always between poems, never in the midst of one -- to watch my iridescent guest and his non-iridescent partner sipping the sugar water from the feeder hanging from the corner of the eave of the shed. I am referring, of course, to a pair of ruby throated hummingbirds that take up residence on my property every summer. The hummingbird may be the only iridescent guest at my house, but it is not the only one in Sarah White’s book. There are two others: The poet, iridescent Sarah White (Did you know white can be iridescent?) and iridescent life itself.
The book is in three sections: The Art Spirit, Philosophical Animals, and Beautiful Adieux. This beautiful gem is from The Art Spirit:
Let your work be a surprise to you
as if the game
were to fish
words from a brook
with a seine
or a slotted spoon —
bug, scum, weed, leaf,
as if, from upstream,
came a fly—trout fly,
a “Royal Coachman”
my brother tied toward the end
of his life—trim feathers
floating like a grief
between the surface
and the weeds underneath.
It is the first poem in the book, aptly so, for it foreshadows all of the themes to come —art, philosophy, nature, and the inevitable farewell.
This poem from the second section seems straightforward enough, a vivid description of a hummingbird at a flower until the electric shock of the final stanza:
Hummingbird, Flower, Friend
His slim tongue sips
from secret pools
underneath the petals.
and Host, together,
resemble a single
multicolored flower —
— until the honey-drunk,
flies off on another errand.
You and I
like branch and vine
are intertwined for reasons
I refuse to explain.
“… reasons/I refuse to explain.” Spoken like a true poet. The true poet that Sarah White is, for she knows that the poet’s job is not to explain but to make poems. And the poem’s job is not to explain but to be iridescently alive.
I mentioned that the poet is one of the iridescent guests in this book, and as all guests are merely temporary visitors to a place, so is Sarah White, a temporary visitor on earth. Thus the last section of the book is all about leaving it. In “Departures” the speaker compares the French poet Mallarmé’s struggle to compose a farewell poem to his son with her painting (Sarah is an accomplished artist) of a handkerchief: “I like it: exactly the size of/the canvas, rendered with wide strokes of flake/white, with no edges or creases—a cloth never/folded away, always at hand for a final adieu.”
I think my favorite poem in this collection of wonderful poems is a letter to the poet’s children outlining the way in which she wants them to send her off. It’s too long to quote in full, so here are the first and last stanzas. You can read the entire poem when you buy the book.
Kids’ Wives, Kids’ Kids,
May you live long and well enough
to carry out these End of Life Instructions.
Mind you, I mean to “End,”
not to “Pass.” When I’m not here,
I won’t be anywhere.
I want to be dispersed.
After that, whatever else you wish to be or do,
I’ll wish it too. Love, Ma.
This could have been morbid. But it is not. It could have been sentimental. But it is not. It is a clear-eyed summation by one who has lived a long and full life, one who has experienced the wonders iridescent life on earth has to offer.
Van Gogh wanted to be a poet. We are grateful that he was not but instead devoted his creative life to painting. Sarah White is an accomplished visual artist who did become a poet, a very good poet, and for that let us be grateful indeed.
J.R. Solonche is a frequent contributor to Offcourse.