Review of Surrounded: Living With Islands
By Prof. Russ Stratton, Founding Editor, Plainsongs
The first edition of Surrounded: Living with Islands, a poetry anthology edited by Sheryl Clough (Write Wing Publishing, 2012), featured this epigraph by Sappho: “If you are squeamish, / do not prod the beach rubble. In this little collection, the prodding is done lightly and in three parts, “Ebb,” “Slack,” and “Flow.”
Ms. Clough, herself a talented poet, tells us in her general introduction that islands do not always become Edens for those who choose them, yet I find most of the work quietly and carefully celebrates the experience as neither Heaven nor Hell. One, “Turtle Island” (William Carpenter), works as a creation myth while another, the prize-winning “Making Islands” (Henry Hughes), explores our life cycle via some interesting erotic imagery, finally welcoming death. Among the other poets, islands from Hawai’i to Ireland offer inspiration or in some cases desperation.
As one might expect, keen observation, particularly of nature, seems as vital to these poems as the characters who populate them. Clough’s poets always make us see rather than telling us what to see, or as the great Japanese dramatist, Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote, “It is essential that one not say of a thing that ‘it is sad,’ but that it be sad of itself.”
It’s an original concept, this little magazine, well-crafted and occasionally self-conscious in a “literary” fashion, but it holds together exactly as Ms. Clough promises, each poem anchored to the book “in which readers may float, motor, flounder or swim from one exotic shoreline to the next.”