(reviewed by Christina Anne Taylor)
I recently received a copy of The Red List by Stephen Cushman, poet and Robert C. Taylor Professor of English at the University of Virginia. Published by Louisiana State University Press, the cover is velvety to the touch and the design and layout are pleasing to the eye, but the real “candy” is in the sound and the delivery of the seventy text pages.
Though it’s noted that Cushman’s eco-theme and statement were clear before he began composing this long poem, it reads not as a rigid list of points to be made, but rather as a fortified flow of consciousness along what feels like “the path of least resistance” yet meanders like a river. He “goes with the flow” of his effervescent thoughts, a long bird-chatter that is playful and pleasing to the ear. It’s easy to become enchanted in the sound, to forget what was just said while hungrily digesting what’s being said in the moment and having no idea what the poet will say next!
Poetic in sound, The Red List is a pleasing potpourri of alliteration, assonance, word-play in general; it’s heavily anapestic with a lot of feminine endings, rolling and rolling from one thought-wave to the next, and then…
a little haiku stylet,
respite for the mind.
Carefully placed tercets serve as little transitions like hallways between busy rooms aswirl with adeptly verbose flights of fancy (champagne comes to mind, bubbly and sprightly), and I find myself asking, “Does Cushman’s mind ever tire?” I’ll have what he’s having!
Frankly, I couldn’t select a favorite passage. I love it all, but being a lover of flowers, I’ll quote from page 39 which underlines all that I’ve said above:
“Out the kitchen window first open daffodil, tentative yellow-head sticking its neck out
to fence-sitting February, genus Narcissus, can’t get away from him, family Amaryllis,
thank goodness a shepherdess, Daffadown Dilly, come munch on that bulb and maybe wake up
Elysium-blissful, eternally elite, surrounded by asphodel, which Dutch turned to daffodil.
Associate at this rate, past Wordsworth’s sad couch, and soon caress everything
except the kitchen sink, but why not caress the kitchen sink too, what better place,
if you must be inside, to have it both ways and be outside also…”
In this musical, magical voice, The Red List enchants readers with symphonic sound, and the substance simply becomes the lingering afterglow. I’ll bask in that substance when I read this poem again, and then I’ll lend it to a friend with the admonishment, “This is my copy. You’ll have to buy your own.”