Finding Beauty by Marine Robert Warden. Shoreline, WA: Bellowing Ark Press, PO Box 55564,98155, 2009. $14.00.
Reviewed by Lou Roach
Finding Beauty, Marine Robert Warden’s fourth book of poems, seems to begin where his last, Canticle III, ended. He again examines his own life, past and present. In this collection, he explores aging with a keen sense of time, as well as the on-going discovery of things not done and now beyond doing, life losses and gains. He addresses the richness of memory, his own wonder at the continuing beauty of the world and the importance of seeing the aesthetic qualities of nature, culture and definitive events. He urges readers to recognize and appreciate the unique characteristics of the people they come to know.
One of the universal traits of maturity is acceptance of what is a constant in all our lives—the ever-changing aspects of living fully. Warden knows this well. He writes of some things that stay the same in “On My Fifty-third Birthday”:
if the sun became smaller
or more cold
I didn’t notice
. . .
I count gains
the moon still talks
the vast machinery of stars
whispers a song in the night.
With the poem “So,” he notes those pieces of life that change almost without notice, using metaphor to show how the usual pattern of days may be altered with little warning:
you are at the age now
where long time friends disappear
and a big black crow struts
on the backyard grass
that someday the flight
from the grass to the local pine
will be too far.
In several poems, Warden emphasizes his belief that time becomes as elusive as finding God. He acknowledges that he has not yet solved the who, what, when or how of God, although he has sought answers in science, medicine and mathematics. He describes his search and his questioning particularly well in two poems. In the first, “Two Steps Forward,” the poet observes the frustration of identifying and/or comprehending the existence of God. He reaches back in memory to his childhood in New Mexico:
the dusty square in front of the church
the crowd all watching the slow dancer
the one with a mask you dared not describe
two steps forward one step back
there was always the dust
The second poem, “The Distance to the Nearest Star,” speaks of his realization that what he believed was real in the world when he was young no longer exists—the world and its inhabitant have changed, just as when
the light from the star has traveled far
and what you see was there before
As in his last book, Warden’s love for his wife Lois is expressed in many of his works. They include: “Covered Bridge, Indiana, 1950,” “The Kirov Ballet in L.A.,” “The Rose,” “Yosemite,” “Portrait of You #3,” and the “Great Ground Swell.” Lois Warden appears to be one of the major influences in his life, his work and his interests. He offers several lines in “Blue That Gives Us Life” that demonstrate the bonds between the two of them and between them and others:
so time passes on earth
and the planet grows older
and some things change love
just as we grow older and change
but the cord that holds us remains
In the last section of the book, where Warden stresses the “search for unobtainable beauty,” the poems become more cryptic, several almost abstruse. I wanted to read those poems in the company of at least one other poet, hoping that discussion might bring clarity to those final selections. In a note at the end of the book, Warden acknowledges his own struggle to understand “Drafts for a Finale: Palm Sunday.” He tells his readers that he continues to puzzle over its abstractions.
I did appreciate the final lines of “Keats’ Nightingale.” They seemed to speak of
Warden’s approach to his poems:
this is how we try to begin a poem
we listen to the voice of song inside
before the music has fled us into the dark
It is apparent that this California writer’s life is filled with curiosity and deliberation. That he continues to find joy and contentment in creativity makes me believe we will see more of his thought-provoking work and expect him to challenge us again.
Lou Roach, former social worker and psychotherapist, lives in Poynette. Her poems have appeared in a number of small press publications, including Main St. Rag, Free Verse and others. She has written two books of poetry, A Different Muse and For Now. She continues to do free-lance writing, although poetry is her favorite thing to do.