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Review of ‘Late Rapturous’,
by Francis X Gaspar (Autumn House Press)

America is a poem in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for metres. This call by Emerson in his poem, “The Poet,” was answered first by Walt Whitman, and then followed by a succession of men and women writers who have continued to expand the boundaries of our national poetry. Frank X. Gaspar carries forward in that Whitmanic tradition close to two centuries since Song of Myself first appeared.

This excerpt is from Late Rapturous, Gaspar’s Autumn House Press collection:

And I would light myself afire for a poem if I thought it would

light you afire, the way I dreamed once that the river burned

beyond 10th Avenue, and the young girls came selling their roses

and carnations all along the banks, while the black smoke rolled

into the sky, and the people crowded the buildings’ roofs and iron

ladders and watched with their hands shading their naked eyes.

“Sometimes God Saves the Fire”

Born in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Frank X. Gaspar served in the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War. He earned an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. He has held the Helio and Amelia Pedrosa/Luso-American Foundation Endowed Chair at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and was named the 2016 Ferrol A. Sams Distinguished Chair, Writer in Residence at Mercer University. Currently he teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Pacific University, Oregon.

Gaspar, author of four other poetry books and two novels, has won the Morse, Anhinga, and Brittingham Prizes, a California and NEA Fellowship, four Pushcart Prizes and has had multiple inclusions in Best American Poetry. And yet, to my mind, he is a vastly unappreciated poet. Here, in his own words, is the reason for that:

“I don’t like standard poetic utterance—or lining, or other ubiquitous ways of signifying a poem on the page. I pay for this, I know. I’m not out on the margins because I try to be. There are plenty of interns, judges, editors and so forth that find my poems strange, even uncouth in their claiming the page and in their jumping and wrenching turns. But there is a strict formality to them. It just isn’t everybody else’s. The voice is mine, or stands for me, because it is me thinking, musing, remembering, juxtaposing, using my ear a great deal with the vowels and consonants, creating cadences and rhythms, busting up long lines, in exactly my own way—not a willed way, not something I thought up to be cute or clever, not a “ technique”—it’s just my mind and brain—the neural wiring and the experience I am stuck with.”

Gaspar’s poems are not written to persuade readers of a particular truth nor do they claim identity nor do they present an abstract personal philosophy. They are not riddles to be figured out. There is no grasping for the mythological or for the historical. Indeed, the work is of the here and now. It’s universal in its specificity of content even though it’s formed out of the poet’s particular obsessions and emotions which spill across and beyond the page. Gaspar is open to the panorama of the everyday which he portrays as the threshold to the miraculous. He omits nothing, yet nothing seems extraneous to the movement & momentum of the work.

A breeze was at my back, the low sun too, and the long shadows of afternoon ran before me–me and my bicycle, balloon tires humming over the college walks and then upon the black asphalt of the streets and boulevards, with the crows looking down from the high weather of the sweet gums and magnolias and jacarandas…You can cry until you’re blind from it, it doesn’t matter, and that’s when the crows warm up to you. You understand them, they understand you, and they’re calling hey, hey, because they’d like the day to hold something for them, some bone and gristle maybe, some blood and fur smudged across their long platter that is Clark Avenue, and if you were me, you were just spinning along on that old dinged up bike, yelling, hey, hey, right back at them, but only inside your head so you don’t disturb any of the good citizens with your little kisses of madness. And then what’s left except to look around for whatever justice and virtue crouch behind the iron gates and the rolling hedges–and the shine of the neighborhoods Chevrolets and Hondas, all the dahlias and azaleas and yellow lilies– they don’t last long, it’s all part of the deal–and neither do the upturned skateboards or the basketball hoop over the blue garage, and I leaned around the corner, all my servile work behind me, up to the house under the trees, rooms full of books and poems, and two cats in the bay windows– they were eyeing those high limbs too, and the crows were totally with me now, they saw things from aloft, and they were calling out, and I bumped up onto the driveway breathing, and I was calling back, but only as a kind of thinking, really, nothing but silence under that glossy helmet, just in the moment when the sun was shrugging down behind the banks of violet clouds, firing the trunks of the Sycamores, tilting the world.


Poetry without experience and observation is advertising, a way to sell soap or sex. Basing one’s art on empty expression and superficial trickery is like being buried in a shallow grave–once the vultures are finished there’s nothing left. And so these narratives, saturated with experience and observation, convey the intimate workings of the poet’s mind. Gaspar does it without bombast, without white space, without cleverness or preciousness. He utilizes the power of words through his authentic voice. Just as Lester Young blew his sax on a slant, just as Miles Davis removed the bell from his trumpet’s mute, Gaspar possesses an original tone which is unmistakably his own. His long lines wander through the page, gathering (“with long arms” as Ellen Bass has said) as a dream meanders through the working darkness of sleep. And always while reporting on what he sees, the poet’s wonder is apparent. He credits Allen Ginsberg as influencing him, saying “Write your mind. Don’t make things up; catch yourself thinking.”

In a poem from his 2nd collection, Mass for the Grace of a Happy Death, ” he writes:

Now after all these years of reading poems, I may finally understand certain questions of form. There is the line with its heartbeat, and there is language with its catalogue of figures, and there is symmetry and breath. Every beginning
demands an end, every curve a consummation, & the world & our lives must locate themselves in image or cease to exist. This could be a kind of Longing or a kind of Will. In seeking beauty it is sometimes necessary to reject a familiar or even an attractive form. If a symmetry is broken, we begin again. In some things failure is impossible.

“Love is the Power Which Impels One to Seek the Beautiful”

Stanley Kunitz wrote, “I never tire of bird-song and sky and weather. I want to write poems that are natural, luminous, deep, spare. I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through and see the world.” When I read the poems of Frank Gaspar I look through his words and I see the world. And I want to write a poem. What greater praise is there.