Walking on Darkness
Sheep Meadow Press: NY, 2016
Peter Dale Scott
Peter Dale Scott is one of the finest renaissance poets of the latter half of the 20th and young decades of the 21st century. Scott has an uncanny way of threading together, in the most intricate and sensitive ways, the personal and the political, the spiritual and the historic in a way few can and do. Walking on Darkness is yet one more poignant illustration of Scott’s uncanny ability to merge depth and insight, wisdom and compact probes.
There can be no doubt there is much darkness in our age and ethos at various levels. There are some who are overwhelmed by such a reality and others, naively so, ignore such painful places. Walking on Darkness is about, if nothing else, discerning how to continue the journey and find a path worth the trekking when night seems to obscure the light.
The reader cannot but be grateful for Scott’s initial hints on how to approach his poetry. “There is more than one way to read my often complex and intertextual poems. I recommend that you begin by reading the poem itself, ideally out loud, and ignore for the moment any sidenotes or references that may accompany it. Whatever you do after that is up to you”. Many of the sidenotes in most of the poems are certainly worth the heeding, but an “out loud” read is a must.
Walking on Darkness is, judiciously so, divided into 4 sections: 1) General, 2) Translations, 3) Haiku and 4) a concluding “Re-Entry” and “Movie Premiere”. Although section one is not titled “General”, the poems cover a lush terrain of general themes from being attentive to nature, political injustices, a splendid poem “To My Wife Ronna”, poetry and political diplomacy, multiple stored memories of 1960s political activism and the layered levels of it, the inevitable clash and tensions between idealism and realism and teaching classical literature and students diverse responses to it. There are also poems that explore vivid experiences both within the Buddhist, Jewish and Christian meditative traditions (Buddhism factoring more significant), a superb poem, “Greek Theatre” (worthy of multiple reads), the touching and tender “Donna Oscura”, the poem for Marianna (Scott’s granddaughter) and, much to the telling point, the fragile nature of commitments, fidelity and the lack of it. There is, indeed, much light and darkness in this section of Walking on Darkness at the personal, interpersonal, political and university life spheres.
The “Translations” section is as broad reaching and cosmopolitan as the initial section. Poems are translated from Du Fu, German, and an obvious indebtedness to the Polish poets Herbert and Milosz. But, there are also the translations of varied experiences from the 1960s in Berkeley to “Jerusalem”. Yet again, light and darkness play their roles on the life stage.
The “Haiku” section is only a couple of pages, but each haiku is brimming with not to be missed experiences that walk the reader through the year---fine meditations on the living layers of life.
The final two poems are, “Re-Entry” and “Movie Premiere”, the latter pointing to a yet greater dance that the soul longs to join yet never quite does. The final poem has many an affinity with the last chapter in Thomas Merton’s New Seeds on Contemplation. I might add, as a Canadian, it was a delight to read Scott’s varied mingling of his Canadian-American life journey and his touching down on his Canadian family (most trying and troubling) and literary life.
Walking on Darkness is both a slim missive yet a large tome. Each poem, like a portal, opens up a vast range of paths worth the taking. The many “sidenotes” and extensive bibliography make this packed book of poetry a library of sorts—shelves and shelves worth taking books from. The front cover is an artistic work of beauty and a true bounty. Peter Dale Scott has offered the attentive and listening reader much light in the darkness as the walk through time is taken---a must have book and worth many reads. The darkness will not be so dark after reading Walking on Darkness.