by Floyd Skloot
“Throughout the book, natural images like the sound of the sea about…anchoring self in landscape, flora, fauna. Mind and memory rooted.”
–Vince Gotera, North American Review
“In poem after amazing poem in Approximately Paradise, Floyd Skloot deploys form (a sonnet on his mother’s Alzheimer’s, a long narrative on the ghost of the legendary Dodger fielder Pee Wee Reese), continuously seeking that place where, Rilke tells us, beauty is born out of just-bearable terror. And again and again, he finds that place; finds it a place suffused with tenderness.”–Gregory Orr
This new collection from award-winning poet Floyd Skloot, tracks life in all its mixed possibilities, taking hard but necessary glances at our ever-changing world. Concerned with the fluidity and fragility of memory, Skloot’s new poems move between the realms of health and illness; past and present; remembering and forgetting; and the stability of change.
Skloot is a versatile wordsmith who gives us lyric, narrative, and formal poems—poems in which lessons are learned from what is lost. His home, a fir and pine forest in western Oregon, provides the anchor for his work and lives at the heart of this collection. Dead artists, poets, writers, composers, actors, and even major league shortstops return to visit Skloot in the remote woods where he lives, and teach him about the sweet rewards of living in the moment.
In Skloot’s poems, we hear melodies interrupted, beauty resonating between those empty spaces and the insouciant chortle of a parrot who leaves us yearning for more of that indescribable something we’re all searching for. Gauguin in Oregon, cello music vibrating in blue and gold, a mother disguised as a scowling gypsy jangling her tambourine: these are the images of Skloot’s world, a place where life’s tender moments can also be robust and bold.
The Harvard Review called Floyd Skloot “A poet of singular skill and subtle intelligence,” and radiating from the center of Approximately Paradise are poems that earn this praise by emoting universal themes like a mother’s love, acceptance, wholeness—themes that succeed in reminding us of an elegant and simple paradise that is always within our reach.
THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME
I am bound upon a wheel of fire
He could not imagine himself as Lear.
He could do age. He could rage on a heath.
Wounded pride, a man gone wild: he could be clear
on those, stalking the stage, ranting beneath
a moon tinged red. Let words rather than full
throated roars carry fury while the wind
howled. He could do that. And the awful pull
of the lost daughter, the old man more sinned
against than sinning. The whole wheel of fire
thing. But not play a wayward mind! Be cut
to the brains, strange to himself, his entire
soul wrenched free, then remember his lines but
act forgetting. Understand pure nonsense
well enough to make no sense when saying
it. Wits turned was one thing; wits in absence
performed with wit was something else. Playing
Lear would force him to inhabit his fear,
fathom the future he had almost reached
already. Why, just last week, running here
and there to find lost keys, a friend’s name leached
from memory. Gone. No, nor could he bring
himself to speak the plain and awful line
that shows the man within the shattered king:
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
JAMES McNEILL WHISTLER AT ST. IVES
Whistler needs no one to sit for him now.
He is finished with portraits, with people.
Finished with nocturnes too, soft edges,
the muted light of a coastal fogscape.
He needs surprise. He wants to be outside
with a panel of wood, a thumb box of colors
and brushes, and nothing to hold him in place.
Bring on the war of sea and shore, clouds
blown apart. Autumn daylight like a shock
to the heart stirs him to life. He is after
the spontaneity of a breaker turned back
on itself. What is a whitecap but a stroke
of wind on wave, the Lord’s own breath
in a flash of foam? Away too long from storm,
from the sea’s surge, he feels himself awaken
before the horizon’s shifting form, where time
itself is visible to the naked eye, where a ship
caught in a trough struggles to right itself.
The summer he wallpapered his daughter’s
bedroom, rain finally buckled the back deck
and sluiced the loose roof shingles free to
flutter off on a gust of wind. He knew
what was happening before his eyes, how water
goes for what holds an old house together
and tears it apart from the outside in.
So does the sun. A week of record heat
seemed to draw the house in upon itself
as he steamed, peeled and scraped through sheet
after sheet of tulips, roses, toy soldiers
and prancing horses. He could hear the thin
cry joists make as they dry. He worked by himself,
a storm of plaster around his shoulders,
the air thick with mold and age, nothing left
to mark the past but bare wall, a tapestry
of cracks, and a door that would not stay closed.
LUNCH IN THE ALZHEIMER’S SUITE
My mother smiles at me. She reaches out
to touch my face and wonders who I am.
The fleck of tuna dangling from her mouth
falls as she asks “Can you find me a man?”
Swaying willow and afternoon drizzle
fracture the light that falls across her tray.
Her hands, as though assembling the puzzle
lunch has become, adjust fork, bowl and plate,
adrift in shadows. Sometimes she forgets
to swallow. Sometimes she holds a spoonful
of soup in the air and loses herself
in its spiraling steam. In a whirlpool
of confusion she may suddenly sink
in her seat and chew nothing but thin air.
She is fading away. Her eyes grow dark
as she looks at the old man sitting there
claiming to be her son. She slowly shakes
her head, lifts an empty cup and drinks.
Throughout the book, natural images like the sound of the sea about…anchoring self in landscape, flora, fauna. Mind and memory rooted.
–Vince Gotera, North American Review
Issue 23 of the Notre Dame Review contains a vigorous yet sensitive review of Floyd Skloot’s Approximately Paradise. In his review, James Wilson comments that:
… it takes great skill to respect the suffering of the sick and their families while also grasping and transforming it into a work of art. Floyd Skloot is the first poet I have run across in possession of such powers. Though far too many poets have tried to paste pathos on the page, hoping the overwhelm with raw power and impress with a rather egotistic display of profound feeling, Skloot impresses with an ear attuned to the counterpoint of sentence rhythm, rhyme, and meter, and with the true artist’s commitment to making the most private and personal suffering revealable to others through a selfless attention to the vivid scene and dispassionate narrative.
The review, called “Poets of Our Suffering” is available in PDF format, and discussion of Skloot’s work begins on page 4.
On the week of June 20th, Ron Slate’s powerful review of Floyd Skloot’s Approximately Paradise, which originally appeared in Prairie Schooner, was the featured item at the News and Reviews page at Poetry Daily. Now it can be found in the archives section of the site. Here’s a small sample to whet the appetite:
In poem after poem, Approximately Paradise is finally about the victory of memory over unimaginable emptiness, and of form over formlessness…. Skloot continues to be a highly disciplined poet, confronting chaos to capture and tame this enemy. There is ferocity living in his forms, coexisting with the sweetness of vanquishing sentiment.
The Oregonian, Sunday, October 16, 2005, had a glowing review of Approximately Paradise.