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In Primary Light

Winner of the 1993 Iowa Poetry Prize

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107 pp

“John Wood's poems are at once elegant and easily approachable. He writes by making simple appeals through the senses, though I find it interesting to study the spiritual man in the sheep's clothing of a forthright, almost commonsensical observer. The poet asks us to extrapolate meaning, rather than to be instructed; he takes it as an act of faith that spirituality resonates in the temporal world and that the sublime may be best implied in the mundane. His voice is strong, original, and pervasive.”—Ann Beattie

“The total effect of In Primary Light is not dark, and this is not merely because of the increasingly celebratory flavor of the latter poems; it is also because Wood strikes a chord somewhat like Samuel Beckett's: however negative Wood's statements are, they are made with gusto and felicity, in exuberant long sentences full of energy, invention, and baroque high jinks. At the crossroads of this attitude and his style is where we find Wood's signature.”—Richard Wilbur

“As befits its complex themes—earthly desire and the vagaries of faith—John Wood's first collection reveals like a prism the gloom-to-irony-to-revelry range of life, an equally complex array of emotional colors normally left blended and blinding…There is no doubt here …that this work is 'the real thing.'”—New Delta Review

“John Wood is a poet of often harrowing candor, and at the same time a strange but unmistakably authentic sweetness prevades whatever he writes. For absolute integrity of feeling and expression, there is nobody like him.”—Amy Clampitt

John Wood is well known for his brilliant writing on the history of photography, but for many years he has also centered on his work as a poet, publishing in some of the very best magazines and gaining the deep admiration of many writers and poets. This book is testimony of his devotion to his craft—a fully realized, mature, and carefully constructed collection.


The Surrounding Grace

I've nothing clever to say
about this
most ordinary of events,
a progress
common as desire

Had some strange, bright wish,
the kind that fames out
one's wit and name, occurred,
I'd have wished it
for this flesh
fragile as a yolk,
these bones
finer than a quail's.

But none did, and so
I find the wish I wish
in a cliché, the third of a cliché,
the dullest prose: I hope
my child will be healthy.
Money I can give it,
and happiness finally
is always singular.

I'm nearly forty, though,
accustomed to myself,
to wife, work, and the stuff of
routine. And now
to let swim into my address
and concern a thing
to worry up whole years,
decades, the rest
of what I've got
is need's strangest
quirking of me yet.

Time, that soil of lust,
of greed's multiplication,
may set us apart, wither
love down, and make you dream
of other fathers, other names.
But I'd have you difficult
and dark, as hateful
as my parents said I was,
to having you sweet
and slow, unable to catch
the strange, bitter grace
you soon will enter into.