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Book Review: Poems as beautiful as Texas itself

Melissa Macdougall, head librarian at the Lakeshore Branch Library

April is National Poetry Month, and Melissa Macdougall, head librarian at the Lakeshore Branch Library, suggests celebrating with 'Is This Forever, or What? Poems and Paintings from Texas.' Staff photo by Brigid Cooley

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Picayune Book Nook is published monthly either online at DailyTrib.com or in The Picayune Magazine. Book lovers of all ages are invited to send their reviews of no more than 250 words to bookreview@thepicayune.com. Include contact information. Reviewers must be Highland Lakes residents. 

“Is This Forever, or What? Poems and Paintings from Texas”

Poems selected by Naomi Shibab Nye; published by Greenwillow Books, 2004 

BOOK SUMMARY: This poetry anthology encompasses the work of 140 Texas poets as they explore every inch of the Lone Star State with their words. Bringing out the beauty in ordinary Texas experiences such as shelling pecans on the porch, listening to country music on the radio, and trying to survive the sweltering summer heat, the pieces in this collection appeal to residents of the state while capturing and sharing the Texas spirit with visitors. 

Reviewed by Melissa Macdougall, head librarian at the Lakeshore Branch Library 

Choosing just one book to review for National Poetry Month was a challenge for this poetry lover. The task became easier when I narrowed it down to Texas poets. My fondness for books that pair poetry with art then led me to an obvious choice: “Is This Forever, or What? Poems and Paintings from Texas,” selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. Nye is a gifted anthologist as well as one of my favorite poets. The poems and artwork in this book capture a kaleidoscopic view of our state.

The title comes from a poem by Carrie Fountain about young love, but as Nye notes in her introduction, it is also likely to be a question in the mind of anyone driving across Texas for the first time. The state’s geographic range is well represented, from “Climbing the Caprock,” a poignant elegy by Roger Jones, to “Mullet” by Geoff Rips, an ode to the coast’s ubiquitous fish that “fling themselves into the air for the tiniest sliver of eternity. Thinking they’re flying.”

Some poems take details of daily life and make them extraordinary – the ritual of feeding the cat, kids crowding around the ice cream man’s three-wheel bike, a train passing at night. Some are hilarious: “Vibrating Crystal” by Richard Sale describes a junk-mail scam attempt. Others are heartbreaking, like Sue Wheeler’s “The Next Day,” which begins: “So little separates the quick from the recently dead.”  

Many explore subjects you may not immediately think of as poetic. For example, Robert Wheeler meditates on the meaning of “the latest admonition from the Texas Department of Public Safety” in his piece “Drive Friendly.”

With poems set anywhere from Dairy Queen to the desert and from diners to discount stores, Nye and the rest of the poets observe Texas as “a big page on which to write or paint,” and this anthology matches its expanse.