Stephen Dunn is justly celebrated as one of the strongest poets of his generation. Now in this rich gathering, he selects from his eight collections and includes sixteen new poems marked by the haunting "Snowmass Cycle." The heralded clarity and intelligence of Dunn's poems are in full evidence here, as is his ability to charm and evoke pathos. As the poet's earlier focus moves from - but never entirely forsakes - the mysteries of dailiness and the complications of domestic life, he more openly embraces the philosophical and social concerns that have always been at the heart of his work. As ever, wit happily resides with seriousness, affirmation coexists with hardship. "I want to find the cool, precise language / for how passion gives rise to passion, " Dunn says in one of the new poems. For two decades, such insistence has led him to a wise lucidity that places him among our consequential poets.
Stephen Dunn has produced a very impressive body of work which avoids grand themes and focuses on the details. His "Essay on the Personal," could almost serve as his poetic mission statement: "Because finally the personal / is all that matters, / we spend years describing stones, /chairs, abandoned farmhouses." These personal obsession aren't the whole picture, though. They lead, ultimately, outward, in the individual's wish to understand others and to be understood. Of the new poems, "Decorum," about an argument over a profane word in a creative writing class, is the standout.