Having written several volumes over half a century, the critically acclaimed American poet Stanley Moss continues to offer galvanizing ideas, images, and feelings in his work. His latest, Always Alwaysland (239 pages; Seven Stories Press), contains more than 100 poems covering a wide range of personal, philosophical, and political topics. Using fanciful free verse and occasional rhyme schemes, Moss takes readers through his vivid memories and endless imagination.
While Always Alwaysland has no unifying theme, there are recurring ideas, such as the concept of language, reading, and poetry itself. Moss continually comments about the nature of the poet and readers of poetry, stating, “if I tried to drown this book, it swims away/ Idle reader, I hope something in this book/ will help you swim across a desert,/ before I say ‘one, two, three- go, turn the page.’” He presents poetry as both hope-filled and chaotic, always oscillating on its true purpose. “Poetry is not a secret voting booth,” he declares in one poem, “an absentee ballot/ Prose is opinionated.” Moss rhymes, but seems comically conflicted about the literary device altogether: “My poem against rhyme that rhymes/ is a speakeasy in prohibition times.”
There are also many poems touching on Moss’s personal acquaintances or famous personages. Whether they be well wishes for a birthday, elegies for the dead, or simply a greeting, each carries a wealth of multiple meaning. Moss even writes a few sonnets addressing his various dogs, most commonly Margie, who is featured on the cover of the book.
Moss doesn’t hesitate to tackle the big topics like life, death, the passage of time, and existence itself. Moss ruminates that “Most of us have had a brush with death/ when we fell asleep at the wheel/ something like a carriage or automobile/ rolled down a cliff.” He lightheartedly rejects a dogless afterlife, and more seriously, and surprisingly, typifies times as “a hound chasing us, rabbits and squirrels,” or as “a highway, a bumpy/ dirt potholed road, a dead end” and as a “bouquet of flowers.” Throughout, Moss has the ability to paint evocative scenes. He writes about music filtering through an Italian vineyard full of crickets and how a quaint swallow’s nest is tucked away in a Corinthian column. These image-based poems are coupled with pertinent and polarizing poems on topics such as abortion, Covid-19, World War III, racial tensions, and more. Each matter is handled with finesse and clear intentionality; sharing both Moss’ opinions and leaving room for readers’ reactions.
An all-encompassing subject matter weaved through much of the book is the question of religion. While firstly a Jew, Moss entertains and entwines many different religions and mythologies in his work, from Christianity to atheism to ancient Greek beliefs. He connects and relates each belief system to one another in striking and often ironic ways. (A preface in the collection approvingly quotes Auden: “Whatever their personal faith, all poets, as such, are polytheists.”)
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In Always Alwaysland, Moss takes a trip to every place in his mind that he can recall:
“I live in an always, always land,
where just as a hummingbird wings
flutter a hundred times a second
I visit, I’m there, soon as I name someplace
I don’t have to pronounce in my head
I’m at Piazza di Spagna, Place des Vosges,
the temple of the vestigial virgins
Delphi, St. Martin in the Fields.
I’ve seen a beautiful bird for every heartbeat I’ve had.”
Truly a purposive concoction of expression, this collection has it all.