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Maintained by William J. Higginson

Beyond Graves Registry

Keith Wilson, Bosque Redondo: The Encircled Grove—New and Selected Poems, Pennywhistle Press (P. O. Box 734, Tesuque, NM 87574), 112 pp., $12 paperback.

Reviewed by William J. Higginson

Long before I moved to New Mexico ten years ago, I had read many of Keith Wilson’s stunning poems derived from his Korean War experience, collected in various volumes under the title Graves Registry. So it has been a great pleasure for me personally, since coming here, to read more of his work and hear him read on a few occasions, though we live nearly at extreme ends of the state.

As with many endeavors, early success—whether measured by sales and popularity or more properly by a poet’s criteria of craft and usefulness of the work—is no guarantee of later excellence. One thinks of the period of maudlin introspective maunderings issuing from Galway Kinnell after his earlier volumes with “The Bear,” the Fergus, and Avenue C poems, lately and thankfully followed by the perfections of his Imperfect Thirst. Kinnell and Wilson, of the same generation, an interesting set for comparison. Like Kinnell with the Avenue C poems, Wilson would later assemble a substantial collection under the title of his best-known work, Graves Registry. But rather than simply add new work in new directions, as did Kinnell, Wilson added substantially to that earlier Graves Registry corpus, expanding and deepening the vision of his first decade back from the war, and giving further voice to his dual love of the New Mexican land of his birth and of the sea that harbored his young adulthood:

Land swells and buckles beneath us, they are
the waves of earth. Beneath our unsteady feet . . .
                                  —from “A Mask for the Warriors”
                                   Graves Registry, 1992 edition
As Ten Enslin said, writing in his brief preface to Wilson’s Lions’ Gate: Selected Poems 1963-1986: “He has made good on his initial promises over a long period of time. The initial intentions have held up. He celebrates his own land, his locus, but he moves—ranges from that initial pivot solidly in New Mexico to what concerns all of us, what is human, what is inhuman . . . .” Further proof of Enslin’s view appears now, in this finely crafted collection, Bosque Redondo: The Encircled Grove—New and Selected Poems. Here Wilson comes deeper and more richly into his own land, our land, and with it the collective humanity in the landscape we all face:
   . . . Outside the rivers
 dry up, the sky clouds, but not with rain.
 Thin birds circle the dying cow and what message
 is there in the pages for me as the years catch me up
 and the thunder of blood dims my ears?

                                        —from “Anastasio Murillo”

Wilson’s ear remains one of our most reliable guides to who and where we are, always tempting each of us toward our own question: “What does it mean?” Reading him, we may find a glimmer, and certainly the pleasure of language, worked from the specific life and heart of a man who pays attention to both the known and what lies beyond it.


This review first appeared in Southwest BookViews, Winter 2002.

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