Reading a good poem is like having an intimate conversation. It engages us in moments of rare beauty, and it doesn’t mask truths that are less than ideal.

Nevada poet Shaun T. Griffin, recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, invites us to partake in a conversation about the natural world in Woodsmoke, Wind, and the Peregrine. Written with the keen observations of a birdwatcher, this collection of poems takes us from the desert landscape of Nevada to the shores of Chile.

Griffin writes with lovely, haunting brushstrokes of detail, as in this excerpt from The Great Horned Owl at the Petroglyphs:

There is no need for darkness:

    the cry of Paleolithic man

    scrapes the canyon, and the nocturnal one

    stalks his sadness. He remains

    hunched in the hollow

    of wings and leaves.

Whether he writes of owls that patrol the night or of pigeons maddened by the corn that never falls, Griffin endows his winged creatures with emotional and physical longings that mirror our own. These poems don’t create a barrier between the natural world and its human observers; rather, we can relate to the brokenness in Griffin’s subjects and find empathy in unexpected places.

Griffin puts his poetic lens at different angles, giving his audience a wide range of perspectives. From one viewpoint in Red-Tail in a Snow Field, we watch the rusted tail/arc the sky/to wood/and earth. From another, we find a piece of Nevada stretched out before us. This passage from Postcard to Wally Easterly From Here in the Loneliest Town on Highway 50 is one that exposes the tender underside of the desert:

We swim the desert’s black skin

  a highway of turtles

    turned belly up,

    the milky stomachs

    vulnerable to flesh-eating birds.

A few pages later, you will find yourself on Costa Brava, listening to the sound of sorsal,/ picaflor, and gaviota marking sky. Griffin’s vivid language heightens our senses as we travel from one scene to the next.

Opening to any page in Woodsmoke, Wind, and the Peregrine is a unique encounter. Griffin’s poems offer respite in moments of quiet beauty; they inspire reverence for the delicate divide between life and death; and they captivate us with snapshots of gravity being defied over and over again.                           -J.M.


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