I have long been an admiring reader of Scott Withiam’s poems and the ways he transforms ordinary incidents and encounters into the deeply human allegory of our days. Like the speaker in the title poem who roams through an auto parts yard amid the strange amid the familiar, these poems seek to salvage and redeem experience. There is a hard-won, well-earned wisdom in Doors out of the Underworld, a remarkable new collection.
Scott Withiam's fresh Doors out of the Underworld quest not for the laurel, or the heroic, or the writ large, but for the quirks that are our lives and their obstinate graces and those inexplicable moments when the human imagination overrides with transformative resources the seemingly static world from which it derives. These poems are precisely envisioned and always, always, on a roll, the riffs lucidly wild, adding up beyond attitude, as thankfully they have that, as well as mood, which animates realities we deem voiceless. They see our follies, our desperation to be happy, and greet our absurdity by inciting the sympathies that so often fail us when lacking the element of surprise.—William Olsen
In Scott Withiam’s Doors Out of the Underworld, marvelous things occur: a pear talks to a man and a woman talks to a book. German restaurants dissolve into empty lots and surf clams teach life lessons. His magic touch shines a stark beam into our lives which illuminates both the pains and pleasures of growing older, of discovering more than we knew was there or perhaps wanted to know, of grasping the struggles and joys of those around us, of simply being human.
I’m a huge fan of Scott Withiam’s poetry—he has such a unique voice and sensibility, I can’t think of anyone quite like him. In poem after poem he surprises me with unexpected turns and unique insights as he moves gracefully between the real and the surreal, the everyday and the otherworldly. With the ease of a story teller, the grace of poet, and the wit of a comedian, he is as entertaining as he is brilliant. Like all great poets, his poems linger in the mind, long after being read.
Stick with this book from start to finish because Scott Withiam lets us imagine the world and look around at it as if we were not each of us the sole axes of our perception, to see a more numinous world of woodsy, peopled outskirts beyond the shams of the rigid and fixed.
As in the Cornell boxes of the Paz/Bishop poem, everything touching and genuine in people here runs away from their names, an insight that could come only through a poet like Withiam, one who looks around as much as he looks within for some living truth, a theme that has a big payoff in a vision of goats.
The selfish poet may wind up like a mollusk or a surf clam, but this book is a sequence by a poet who is Carver-esque in his showing and people, whose prose and lyric poems are like what would happen if Robert Frost and René Char had decided to switch places and rewrite each other's verse in the middle of the American economy of universal invisibility. This book feels as real as the woods by the road, with some fishing line in the branches
Doors Out of the Underworld
by Scott Withiam
$19.95, paperback, 90pp