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Lydia Davis
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Mister Skylight

Mister Skylight - Ed Skoog I hadn’t read Ed Skoog before putting my hand up to review Mister Skylight, but I subscribe to the Dive-In School of poetry and this volume came with three good omens.

1) Ed Skoog. You can’t do much better than to be a poet with a name like Skoog. Half a verb, half a Seussian entity.

2) The title. Even before I knew what the phrase 'Mister Skylight' meant, I loved it. When I found out what it meant, I loved it more. For those who don’t know, it’s the code used to alert a ship’s crew of an encroaching calamity without clueing in the passengers. Mister Skylight is a character in this book, one who, when you tell him your disturbing dream, doubles your prescription. This title is an apt metaphor for a country that often feels it’s being left in the dark.

3) The cover photograph. Great impact. But as much as I like the perch, looking either into or out of devastation, I found Skoog’s poems much less lonely than the cover shot would suggest, because the poet keeps “building things where the obscure forest used to be,” that forest being memory.

Even if written in thoughtful solitude, Skoog’s poems are quickly peopled, and thinged, as in the beginning of Canzioniere of Late July:

"Almonds drop and temple the soil. / Carrots grow longways into earth. / The Mississippi carries clouds of soil / in gigantic purling. Winds erode soil, / making it savage to live above dirt, / always shifting. Listen as whispering soil / becomes a tropical opera of soil..."

The speaker in Skoog’s poems seem to gravitate towards company and/or activity. If it sometimes turns surreal, it’s more Bruegel than Magritte.

Take The Carolers, in which a gang of Christmas carolers tempt the speaker from his doorway to join their revelry. Although tempted, he hangs back, but experiences in a kind of dream the carolers’ night as if he’d gone along when they climbed through his Ford “pulling ‘I Saw Three Ships’ through the car like a rope.”

That’s why I’ve dubbed these “meditative action poems” – there’s always something happening, and the poet participates or just observes, but lets you know what it was like to be there, to breathe there, to experience and think through.

While there is a lot of “happening,” there are quieter moments, too, as well as focused dreams and still, surreal images. One of the most tactile and pleasing comes at the beginning of Season Finale:

"My last look around the house / took so long that the vine / climbing the rosebush climbed / into my eyes. . ."

While I’m generally partial to shorter poems, in Mister Skylight, Skoog shows his strengths and riches in the long poems and sequences – Canzioniere of Late July, Mister Skylight and Memory Loss, a gorgeous poem in which, once again, experience and reflection send the speaker back out into the arms of the world.

That quest for company, to share experience, surely contributes to the sense of hope that finally glows in these poems, but also the poet’s disposition, his “version” of what he sees. In the last segment of the poem Mister Skylight, garbage men hang from the moving truck, throwing in cat litter, electronic appliances, bubble wrap, diapers, and finally –

"the sheet music to “Clair de lune,” / cuttings from a holly, oyster shells / on top, round mirrors of the dawn."

One of my favorite poems in the book is the first one, a preface called During the War. This is a list-like poem of what the speaker was up to during whichever war we’re on, and it sets the reader up for the narratives to come, all the characters and places, the American landscape.

"I lived in two houses, one apartment, / took notes on a cocktail napkin / and a record store receipt my salary / almost covered. / I abandoned my longing / to be more serious, and grew out my hair..."

The notes on that napkin are what you will be served in this book, serious poetry, rooted in places, characters, a culture and time.

As a matter of taste, I'd give it a 3+/4-, but since that's not possible, I go with 4 stars here.