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Richard Loftus

Autumn is a collection of poems that surprise in the turns they take as they explore beginnings and endings—in life and companionship. The work is achieved through solid images absent an editorial voice that sometimes can slip into poetic writing. The images and the ideas they conjure stay with the reader, summon hope and memory, and invite the reader to revisit the book and its pages.

This third collection from Loftus (Fireflies) finds the poet turning his considerable observational powers onto the everyday, including a visit to an Asian market, a woman reading at a truck stop, a dog gazing at the night sky, and a trophy’s “golden boy / preening upon a shelf.” An early standout pays gently comic tribute to a pair of hands muddling through a piano exercise, the rhythm and polish of the final couplet more satisfying than the musical performance: “hand by hand in double time, the right ahead, the left behind,” he writes. The precision of that line exemplifies Loftus’s work. Again and again, he celebrates, with quiet exactitude, the pleasure in a job done right: backing up a trailer; jacking a car up “just the way the Chilton says”; “or the boatwright / scraping hulls, mixing varnish / to brush his world, / all alone in his boneyard cold.”

Occasional inspired echoes (his “See the swan unfurl herself” brings to mind Elizabeth Bishop’s “a heron may undo his head”) will keep readers on their toes, and some inspired play casts new light on the familiar. The dazzling “Fisher of Men” finds fresh meaning in the phrase from Matthew 4:19, asking “After all, what are we?” before contemplating our essence in short, sculpted lines whose individual meanings coalesce into something grander: “Salt, wet, / departure, return, / repeated show / of quick, slow, / still, churning, /descending, ascent /”. The idea, slippery yet powerful, surges on from there, though it’s tempting to double back and revisit the earlier words with the later ones in mind.

Loftus’s work rewards but does not demand that kind of careful attention. He’s adept at evocative yet concrete detail (the “Skoal cans, and shorty Buds” of men out boating) and always imbues a concluding line or couplet with memorable insight, a savvy double meaning, or even a punchline. Autumn offers crisp, memorable verse, but also the opportunity to see what Loftus sees.

Takeaway: These inspired observational poems celebrate and exemplify precision and seeing.

Great for fans of: Ross Gay, Mary Oliver.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+