“Rain,” my father says when he visits from Ohio, “is a small price to pay for living in paradise.” In mid-September, then, before the onslaught of autumn rain, it was fitting to find a copy of Approximately Paradise — Floyd Skloot’s fourth collection of poems — in the Poetry mailbox.
Approximately Paradise begins with King Lear and ends in the silence of a bedroom before night’s curtain rises on day. Throughout, a host of characters — from painter John Constable to writer Carson McCullers to Baseball-Hall-of-Famer Pee Wee Reese, take turns on Skloot’s stage, where limitations are encountered and countered with imagination and resilience.
At the heart of the book lie the eight poems that make up “The Alzheimer’s Suite,” six of which start with the words “My mother.” Here, the Amity poet’s quiet, controlled lines track a mind that’s lost its place. This is how “Relocation” ends: Still thinking I am her last late boyfriend, she leans closer, says “you’re always so kind to me” and sighs and pats my hand.
Boyfriend, kind, hand — end rhymes anchor many of these poems, some of which are out-and-out sonnets. Formality is a tactic Skloot’s loyal readers should find familiar, one Maxine Kumin praised when she chose his book “The Evening Light” to receive the 2001 Oregon Book Award for poetry.
Too, the subject of memory isn’t new to Skloot, who garnered several nonfiction honors for “In the Shadow of Memory,” an account of the devastation caused by a virus that attacked Skloot’s brain in December 1988. The sequel, “A World of Light,” was released in June. But as Emily Dickinson put it, the brain is wider than the sky. And the sky has room enough for poetry and prose. Thus, Approximately Paradise has appeared mere months later.
The majority of the poems in the new book invoke the natural world, though some of the encounters with blue sky happen in the confines of the mind. Skloot also grounds much of this book in particular times — years, months, seasons. Upon second reading, I began thinking of Approximately Paradise as a series of place holders. Here you are, they say. And here. And here.