Thursday, June 2, 2011

Poetic Response to "The Gravedigger's Roots"

A Poetic Response to “The Gravedigger’s Roots”
(first published in Wild Goose Poetry Review)

I don’t usually publish my own poems in my column, but a while back I did publish my poetic response to Jessie Carty’s book “Paper House” because the poem served as a sort of “review” of her book. I did the same thing after reading Tony Abbott’s “New and Selected Poems.”

The fact that a book prompts me to write a poem of my own says a great deal about the impact the book has on me. Writing a poem, after all, is not an easy thing to do. It would be easier just to move on to the next book. Some books, however, “move in” once you read them. They take up residence in your psyche -- the place where most poems are born.

Such was the case with both Carty’s and Abbott’s books and now with Robert King’s “The Gravedigger’s Roots.” This 2009 collection from Shared Roads Press consists of 51 poems written from the perspective of a persona whose significant role in the world is that of a gravedigger. While such a perspective might lead some to assume the poems are inherently macabre, what the reader finds instead is poetry with a wide range of emotional and philosophical contexts all connected by the ever-looming presence and awareness of that ultimate human reality, mortality. I personally found the poems to be refreshingly Romantic in their dealing with that common inevitability. The underlying message of these poems certainly echoes the work of both Whitman and Emerson, but the styles, language and imagery have all been updated to make the reading more immediately relevant and enjoyable.

Readers interested in ordering their own copy of “The Gravedigger’s Roots” can do so at Now here is my poetic response to the book. The italicized line is stolen from one of Kings’ poems.

The Keeper
after Robert S. King

Heel on shoulder,
hands gripping the shaft,
shift weight forward,
press down,
thin roots popping as the blade moves through,
lean back,

A hole the only thing it makes,
absence, empty space,
and yet without it, nothing grows,
necessity the smallest understand.

Most come here not to die
but simply to be dead.
Precious few come to live
and do the work
of keeping things going.


  1. fine poem in its own right, even without connection to King's book. BTW, the italics didn't show up . . .

  2. Very good poem without reference to anyone or anything. I reacted to one of the books you mentioned in a similar way, and wrote something after reading in Abbott's wonderful collection. It's a response to one's work I'd think any poet would cherish. It was fun to find a real poet whose example I had unknowingly followed.

  3. Thanks, Jean. Joan, I love Tony's work. Do you still have the poem you wrote after reading it? I'd love to see it some time. This sort of (to borrow Jessie Carty's term) referential writing is always interesting to me -- nothing beats a poetic dialogue.