reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht
In his new book the celebrated poet Gerald Stern tells us how he got started: by keeping a twenty under his insole, “I say it’s just / in case I say it’s for an emergency,” and also revealing to the reader how he still does this today and noting that a twenty wouldn’t buy much now “not nearly enough / for a straw hat to cover my sunspots.” Stern often seems to be telling a story that feels urgent and real, while also trailing off elsewhere and finishing in a private code. Much of Galaxy Love’s subject matter is about having lived a long time. Across the book there are numbers everywhere: “sixty years later,” “seventy-six years ago,” “now thirty years since,” “after seventy years.” “Blue Particles” is a touching poem wherein the poet tells himself, “Don’t ever think of Coney Island,” and then thinks about it for a stanza: “Nor your stubbornness every morning at the small table / and what it was like to walk out into the sunlight / and how the blue particles were your chief influence, / that and the Book of Isaiah / and King Lear rolling in the dirt on Chalk Mountain / the early part of your life.” Despite not knowing what the blue particles are, as readers we are compelled. Stern’s poems often showcase a mystery that is its own reward. The book is haunted by poets, especially Yannis Ritsos, Stanley Kunitz, and Hart Crane.
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2017.