Poetry. Stillness, especially in poetry, is often a virtue, evoking peace, rest, the quiet of nature; but in this new collection of poetry from David Salner, stillness is an aftermath, a consequence of ending and absence. As in the title poem, surveying a community after the closing of the mine that gave it life and livelihood: "The metal lungs never stopped breathing, until / a stillness entered the valley, of weeds and rust, / of underground voices doggedly calling." There are many species of stillness and loss in these poems, beginning with the first section, "A Dream of Quitting Time," which offers an eloquent and all too rare account of working class life, its trials but also its unexpected moments of beauty. Salner's description of a furnace "Burning Magnesium" is remarkable for its lyricism, portraying the metal of the title as a living thing that suffers wounds, as "strawberry blisters riddled the sheen." There is yet dignity in labor, but it is permeated by the nagging knowledge that nothing lasts. It has been a long time since David Ignatow enjoined us to "Get the gasworks in a poem" as a means to get at the heart of America, but it has never been truer, and rarely accomplished as surely as Salner does it here. Elsewhere he deals with stillness of a different order, reflecting on the deep stillness of time in the second section, "The Road to Philippi," which takes its title from a poem describing a Civil War battlefield long after the guns, and those who fired them, have fallen silent. These poems range over historical and literary themes and figures, the past sometimes colliding with the present (see "Walt Whitman at Abu Ghraib"), ending with a poignant scene of Satchel Paige and Buck O'Neil at the site of the Charleston slave market, "rooted in time / in this harbor of souls." The final section, "A Summer Rain," returns us to the present and often to the personal, particularly in several poems where Salner writes of family history, where the remnants of his Hungarian grandfather's life "rusted in various sheds" that he and his sister were told to avoid, and his grandmother peers into the darkness of an Ohio night, a "mystery she entered when she left / Hungary so long ago." He wishes to know more of her life, of why she left: "A story like that / I could build a lifetime upon." But this history, too, is swallowed by silence. By stillness. In the closing poem, "Summer Rain," we arrive at last to a pastoral stillness, a wet world after three days of rain: "Here with you, I still feel like that boy / who ran through fields where creek water rolled, / through a soaking rain that was good for the world / and still blesses his bones." It is an unabashed and unapologetic love poem. And in memory of what has passed, in that stillness, it blesses us like the rain.
David Salner received his MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, and is the author of two previous books of poetry in addition to poetry in many journals. He has worked all over the US as an iron ore miner, steel-worker, machinist, bus driver, cab driver, garment laborer, and longshoreman. He now works as a librarian. Salner was honored with grants from the Puffin Foundation, the Dr. Henry P. and Page Laughlin Fund, and two from the Maryland State Arts Council. He won the 2016 Lascaux Prize for Poetry and the Oboh Prize, judged by Cecilia Wolloch. He has received seven Pushcart Prize nominations and on three separate occasions Garrison Keillor read Salner's work on the NPR show, Writer's Almanac. His latest book is THE STILLNESS OF CERTAIN VALLEYS (Broadstone Books, 2019). He lives in Millsboro, Delaware with his wife, Barbara Greenway.Author City: MILLSBORO, DE USA