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Richard Loftus
Canvas by Richard Gilmore Loftus
Canvas promises to be a highly polished, sophisticated collection of poems that explore themes as diverse as love, sex, death, memory, and art. As reviewers and editors have said of three previous books by Richard Gilmore Loftus, expect the poems in Canvas to be weighty but nimble, full of beautiful language, keen observations, and fresh, surprising metaphors—a collection that rewards careful and repeated readings.
Loftus’s fourth poetry collection, following 2021’s Autumn is an intimate yet timeless remark on time’s weathering of the body, the mind, memory, spirituality, and art. “Laurels grow moldy // and rot just like me // faces grow old // on cinema screens,” Loftus writes in “Flimflam Man." Such is the grief of having lived and still living, but Loftus uses this sorrow as a starting point, as a foundation to explore what mysteries and surprises erupt from the experience of aging, like beauty, even in death, which Loftus describes in “The End of the World” as “a flutter in her chest, like a butterfly having trouble lifting from a flower.”

In Loftus’s poems, memories transcend beyond the intangible and enter the physical world; they attain a state of being and change like people, like the seasons. In “Naming the Animals” the poet compares memories to “animals [calling] us in the dark,” and in “Enamel,” a clawfoot tub “in the old house, a dozen miles and a decade off,” houses in its void what is left of “his preening, waning youth.” Loftus uses figments from his past as clay to sculpt poems that relate grand insights about what it is to experience the gift and curse of time, which come forth with particular clarity in “Craquelure.”

The poem begins with the speaker flipping through a book of Renior paintings with “such brittle, fragile pages,” and then imagining the painter and his muse’s “moments in the atelier [...] bound to linen, then and later, time no friend to canvas and paper.” The term “craquelure” refers to an imperfection, a mark of wear on the painting, on the flesh, but it lends a magnificence that can only exist after the ripening touch of time. The cracked canvas is a singular wonder, and so too is Loftus’s exquisitely frayed collection.

Takeaway: Autumnal collection of intimate poems that capture beauty in humanity and art.

Comparable Titles: Margaret Atwood’s Dearly, Donald Hall’s Affirmation.

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