Candling the Eggs
by Wally Swist
Acclaimed poet Wally Swist remarks on events of everyday living in this brilliant collection. "The Female Cardinal," "Ray's Sandwich Shop," "Ode to My New Shoes," and, of course, "Candling the Eggs" show us how to notice the value in commonplace events. Yet, there is more, as we see in "What is Essential" and "Abhorrence;" living calls for action. Of over thirty books and chapbooks, this is perhaps his finest.
POETRY / General
ISBN: 978-1-947067-07-3 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012); The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015); and Invocation (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015). His poems have appeared in many publications, including Appalachia, Commonweal, Miramar, North American Review, Rattle, Sunken Garden Poetry, 1992-2011 (Wesleyan University Press, 2012), and upstreet. Garrison Keillor has read his work on the national radio program The Writer’s Almanac. Swist makes his home in South Amherst, Massachusetts.
This multi-faceted panoply reminds us again why we read Swist. Poems written in “Dream Time” . . . “between snowmelt and first bloom,” the pre-election “predator with the blowsy hairdo, who is Donald Trump,” a Klan Grand Wizard from a boyhood parade, and the “pressureunder the skull” of the poet’s lurking “Migraines.” But ultimately we’re rewarded with “The Kiss” " . . . a shiver, a shock of static —/ which just begins to open the door of mystery/ that leads to the grand suite of the soul."
It is hard to read any of Swist’s poems without learning something new: the origin of a word, the folk name of a snake, the demise of composer Henry Purcell, a candid glimpse of a famous writer or actress. And always the birds flare throughout the lines of Swist’s poems, and the deer stamp their feet, and the hawks crash out of the sky, and the snakes appear and disappear magically. Swist holds the translucent eggshell of the world up to the illumination of his visions in a dark age; he looks for signs of life and sees them before the rest of us even know what will be born.
In these meticulous and profound poems, Wally Swist creates for us a realm that is both recognizable and transformed. His passion for and intimacy with nature are ever-present, but he is far from being a “nature poet” in the usual sense, though his imagery is often indelible. On the contrary, the flora and fauna, landscapes and weather of his world are part of a complex mix that subtly includes human life in all its socio-political complexity. He’s not afraid to think in these poems, and the intelligence that drives them runs through them like a quiet underground fire. In fact, much of the work of these explorations happens below ground, so that what at first seem commonplace details can suddenly take us off guard, revealing surprising depths. Swist is a poet intent on investigating the human spirit and its potential for opening into deeper and deeper engagement with the world. This is tough moral work, and one of its fruits is gratitude: " . . . How fortunate we are / to live in the world that offers us / its constant reminders of who / we are and what our true being is." This book continues to haunt me.
Steve Pfarrer, "Candling the Eggs," Daily Hampshire Gazette. (September 29, 2017).
Wally’s Swist again spins his magic in Candling the Eggs. This brilliant collection intertwines man and nature in ways that make the reader question where the line is drawn and which side he/she is on. Throughout, Swist’s golden voice weaves a tapestry of introspection, of questions whose answers can be found only within ourselves.
No matter the subject of his poems, the music of his words present a divine symphony, one that haunts the reader beyond the pages. Wally Swist’s voice is like a lute. Indeed, Shakespeare was only one of many writers of his day who attributed to the lute the power to transport the listener into a kind of ecstasy. "Now divine aire, now is his soule ravisht, is it not strange that sheepes guts should hale soules out of mens bodies?"
Swist finds true ecstasy in nature, where the quiet enhances his beautiful spirit sung in words plucked from the strings of his heart.
Love and longing, man and nature, the mundane and the divine, all converge to let the reader know that being alive is more than breathing, that one must inhale the minute in order to realize the magnificent. Swist’s insight into the world is one that teaches that the ordinary is to be cherished.
He begins his collection with “Sacred Day:”
In “Silhouette,” the reader is engaged with the imagery and the wisdom of birds who tell the truth as they know that man is destroying nature. Swist’s introspection into nature swallows him, or him it. He wants to free the earth:
Swist’s title poem, “Candling the Eggs,” is a beautiful, spiritual awakening, a father’s abuse contrasted against a serene moment:
The reader is left with hope. Swist is fiercely gifted. Again, Swist’s skill in connecting light and dark leads to reliving moments whose chemical reaction explodes to shatter the reader’s psyche is evident in “Dark Bozo”:
Swist’s imagery throughout is brilliant. “Ode to the Iris” is an ode to life, to the thankfulness for whatever brief moment we are allowed.
“Interstices” continues the grateful nature of Swist’s writing and the realization that
A man who knows life, who has lived life in all its pain and glory, Swist writes in “Offering Guidance”:
Perhaps it is Swist’s “Deer, in Three Movements” that most impresses the reader, with true lessons of life given through the metaphorical prowess that is so forceful in Swist’s poems:
One cannot be satisfied with one reading of Candling the Eggs. The reader goes back again and again and in doing so connects the dots and reconnects life’s small moments to the meaning of being alive. How fitting that in “The Kiss,” Swist completes his collection, with beauty and love, leaving the reader in a gentle quietude that is Swist’s signature:
— Pat Mottola, author of Under the Red Dress, editor of Connecticut River Review
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