Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review of Mister Skylight by Ed Skoog

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It's a blog tour for MISTER SKYLIGHT by ED SKOOG organized by Read, Write, Poem.

From the book description:

The phrase “Mister Skylight” is an emergency signal to alert a ship’s crew, but not its passengers, of an emergency. This debut collection is alert to disasters—the flooding of New Orleans and the wildfires of California—and also to the hope of rescue. Interior dramas of the self are played out in a clash of poetic traditions, exuberant imagery, and wild metaphor.

Ed Skoog, who worked for years in the basement of a museum in New Orleans, developed personal connections to objects and paintings. “Working on an exhibition about the building trades was important to this book,” he writes. “Spending weeks listening to the oral histories of plasterers, steeplejacks, and carpenters connected me to my own family’s stories.” Marked by uncommonly intense and considered use of language, Skoog demonstrates a rich attention to form and allusive narrative as he attends to the details of contemporary politics, culture, place, and relationships.


I first heard about Ed Skoog when he became the Poet-in-Residence for Richard Hugo House. For some reason, I assumed he was older, but reading this bio I learned that this poet was born in 1971 in Topeka, Kansas.

His book, Mister Skylight, is his debut collection and what a way to begin with Copper Canyon Press, one of my favorite presses. As the book description says, "the book is alert to disasters," but I felt the strongest poems move beyond that topic and into the more intimate, such as the poem "Little Song" where Skoog writes:

Returned to your hand, I'm the astronomer
unable to lower this telescope, or look away.

You're the telescope, too. Close, you show me
far reaches that are themselves not even beginning.

Not to be the one who is left is to live in an alarm.
The unstraightened bed.

In the title poem, "Mister Skylight," I am reminded of John Berryman's "Dream Songs" with its reoccurring "Mr. Bones." But here, we have another character throughout the poem. "Mr. Skylight":

When I tell Mr. Skylight my dream

he doubles my prescription. Pen in hand,
he gestures at his shelf of resources
and says take your pick. At the same moment,

your butcher jabs his butcher knife
toward the row of basted ham shanks,
take your pick.

I like how Skoog takes what is an emergency signal and turns it into character that can be conversed with because in my mind, this becomes the individual dealing with their own emergencies in their lives.

These moments in the collection are what shine through for me. Lines like, The boy with the web painted on his face/pursues this thoughts through the vineyard from "Party at the Dump" and The oceans may not have a center but here are its margins from "Pier Life."

Another favorite place in the book is in the poem "Inland Empire" where Skoog writes:

. . .What I don't say
anymore, I say in fall
to various people in a paper
leaf-like tradition
who remember in falling leaves
various people, while I keep trying
to lose you, in my fashion
failed and constant.

Skoog's poems can be dense. He is not one to offer much space in his poems with a few exceptions; most of his poems are built line upon line. His stanzas and lines tend to be longer. Because of this, the reader needs to pay attention or the wonderful lines I mentioned above will be lost in the read. This book demands you to stay focused.

I always enjoyed turning the page to find a poem made of couplets, or the spacing he used in the poem "Mister Skylight" so his images and lines get to stand out a little more. Many of his poems, like Richard Hugo's poems, focus on place and each line ends on a strong noun or verb and rarely (if ever) have enjambment.

While not all the poems pull me in as much as other poets I have read from Copper Canyon Press such as Peter Pereira, Heather McHugh, and Matthew Dickman, I think readers who enjoy the work of Ben Lerner, Joshua Beckman, and Matthew Zapruder would appreciate this book as well.


  1. this line stood out to me, as well: "The oceans may not have a center but here are its margins" from "Pier Life." i LOVED that.

    and you're right to point out that the reader must pay attention. it's a lesson in that, to read carefully and attentively.

  2. Like the last second shout out to Ben Lerner, a poet Ed helped onto his feet


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