Vern Rutsala was a major and completely overlooked American poet. Reed College, his alma mater said, "Vern made a virtue of obscurity." That may be true. Despite this collection being a finalist for the National Book Award (2005), Rutsala being a Guggenheim Fellow (1982) and more, he didn't even get an obituary in the NYTimes and apparently wasn't widely known outside the Pacific Northwest. I came to his poetry years ago, and recently while culling my shelves, I pulled down the poetry books and prepared to part with quite a few. I paused for a second at this one, then stopped, sat on the floor and just started reading.
I bought The Moment's Equation in 2005 and was reminded of it in 2014 when Rutsala won the C.E.S. Wood Distinguished Writer Award from the Oregon Book Awards.* He died two weeks after winning and I finally got around to reading this collection. I find these days that reading poems all in a row finds me less appreciative, so I savor them like really good truffles - one at a time. (Pro-tip: This is why it's impossible to cull poetry shelves - they always taste good when you open the lid.) I'd planned to read a poem a day from this book starting nine days ago. Clearly that didn't work.
What a beautiful, wise, often funny, other times heart-wrenching, and much-too-short collection of poems. I favor prose-y poems, and these qualify for the most part. They center, as most of his poetry does, on the beauty of normal stuff, or as he put it in another collection, "...the eloquence / of vacant furniture..."
Needless to say, this is going back on the shelf. (OK, fine, you got me! I admit - I only got rid of a couple duplicates.)
* It was fairly special to get the C.E.S. Wood Distinguished Writer Award. It's not given every year. Before 2014, it had last been bestowed in 2008.
A few more links:
- The Oregonian obituary
- The Poetry Foundation has a decent selection of Vern Rutsala work if you click.
- More poems at poetry.us.com - the second one is fairly popular, if not attributed, says Google
- I'm horrified to note that the Academy for American Poets doesn't bother to do anything more than list his name and give him a blank page. Argh.
- Remembering Vern Rutsala by Lewis Turco
- Kenyon Review's remembrance