Getting a first book of poems published can seem an insurmountable challenge. Few publishers are willing to print debut collections and few newspapers will give them coverage.
But Barbara Crooker's Radiance - which won the Word Press First Book Prize - is worth a mention. In these pages the Pennsylvania poet writes both of artists - Rodin, Van Gogh, Cézanne - and the art of living. For Crooker, attention to detail is crucial. She looks at the world with loving attention - noticing the way light falls, the subtle shifts in mood - and even in disappointment she finds some small blessing.
In "Some October" she writes:
Some October, when the leaves turn gold, ask
me if I've done enough to deserve this life
I've been given. A pile of sorrows, yes, but joy
enough to unbalance the equation.
When the sky turns blue as the robes of heaven,
ask me if I've made a difference.
Crooker writes with great feeling but is not sentimental. She knows how to mine the mundane - driving in rain, watching geese in flight, snuggling with her husband - for kernels of joy and wisdom. Any experience can become transcendent, even watching her autistic son disappear into his own mind.
Crooker is a poet who turns consistently from "darkness into light."
She always returns to the art of gazing, appreciating, and then shaping moments into words.