Review: Bloom reviewed by Andrew C. Gottlieb
"A Desert Bloom: A Naturalist’s Second Book of Poems", review
I first came across Simmons Buntin’s poetry in early November 2008, when Verse Daily published online his poem, “Flare”. This is a short poem set in the evening, narrator aside a field of wild desert flowers as the night comes down, a poem that in a short five couplets addresses life, death, and rebirth through the lens of man considering nature.
The poem starts “South of Arizona 86...” and that’s a clue to Buntin’s work. It takes you down dusty footpaths, calling to mind other vagrant first lines like Hunter S. Thompson’s famous opening: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert...” Buntin’s focus is remote, natural, reaching away from the overpopulated and chaotic world in which we live. Arizona 86 is a highway no more than 50 or 60 miles from the Mexico border, crossing the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation. This is a desert land of sage, saguaro, ocotillo, and any other flora than can withstand drought, thriving in the rarer rains.
In Buntins’s nature, life comes from the briefest of pollinations, a bloom that will promise future generations, “a single white lily drinking / the last brushstroke of sunlight...”, a life he sees as parallel to a human existence: “born of the mad summer storms, rain-soaked / and rooted...”
Buntin’s careful, lyrical word choice powers the poem, the echoes of sound, like so many petals in the same field: “...gold poppies and dappled bladder pod. // Already their heads are closing—already the dark / cape of desert sky calls them home.”
“Flare” is a quintessential Buntin poem, and it can be found almost in the middle of Bloom, Buntin’s second book, the title poem to the second section in this collection of free verse poems conscious of form and language but far from any particular rhyme or meter. What has prominance here is a careful eye for beauty in the natural world, an appreciation of the given moment, and the ability to communicate to the reader with a deft poesy: “..the mourning // doves fled the battered roost, / the brood lost / early, shells weathered // to white dust.”
Buntin is not a loner though, but a social, family-man as well, and the perch from which he views the natural world is often in a moment of distraction, a pause in a life to see something of utter importance that others might miss: “…the ringtail swept over the ductwork // and steel, watched as we served / cake and chardonnay.” This on Buntin’s 40th birthday, in the poem appropriately titled “The Gift.”
That may be why one feels some much joy from this work. Buntin conveys his sense of appreciation for being alive. His daughters and wife are featured in many of these poems, and while he highlights the beauty of the snow geese rising under a red sun at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge—“the cyclone / of tungsten wings beneath the dawn’s red rise…”—in the final lines, he spins us back to focus on his girls: “…my daughters, / bundled in bright plumage…their own capped heads / and arms lifted skyward, and rising.”
This is a man happy not just for nature but for the people he’s with, a shared love for the world and the luck to view it with family. It’s a poetry that’s perhaps a cross between the solitude and observation of Mary Oliver and the joy and cheer of Walt Whitman, revisiting themes of rebirth and ritual, gratitude and survival. There is mourning for parts of our world that have or are being destroyed: Hiroshima in the past, and today, albatross chicks choking on plastic on the Midway atoll. There is the guilt of a father taking his daughter hiking on a trail too difficult, getting lost, finally emerging to safety.
Bloom is a book filled with scorpions and bees, cholla and mesquite, coral snakes and coyotes. It’s got the expected section of notes on the poems, but it also adds a glossary of terms—plants names and other definitions—the sign of a true naturalist at work. Buntin knows his Paintbrush from his Palo verde.
The book’s third and final section is a single long poem broken into 8 sections exploring alternately the life and death of an agave plant with a serious accident one of Buntin’s daughters survived after running through a glass door. We have a limited span in this natural world; what Buntin tells us is to take care, to go slowly as we tread the path, eyes open. Part four of the long poem, “Inflorescence”, closes: “…the king is a beast: cruel trick / of the gods. They laugh as they fall / to the spiked desert floor.”
Review: Bloom reviewed by Jennifer McStotts for CutThroat, A Journal of the Arts
(Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2011)
I owe a debt of thanks to Simmons Buntin for Bloom
, his second collection of poetry, because it was in reading this work that I began to understand how one can gracefully wrap themes together on the scale of a collection, keeping the recurring images evocative rather than repetitious. Buntin writes of mothers who are also grandmothers, sons who are fathers, and daughters who are like the blooms of the Sonoran desert that surrounds him. He writes of the flora and fauna of the desert without losing the layers of meaning tangled within his writing, which like his life is always nature within the context of family, family within the context of nature.
This collection is a fine weave of many of Buntin's experiences with the desert's flowering life and his own daughters' growth and healing. The poems move in three acts from “Shine” to “Flare,” to “Inflorescence,” the long, segmented, concluding poem that chronicles his elder daughter's maturation in the face of a significant injury, and they are predominantly metaphoric, both in theme and in specific images ("The blood is like a cardinal // dropping feathers as it lifts"). Buntin intertwines his daughter’s healing with the towering-yet-dying agave stalk in the family yard in a manner that reflects the truth of their interrelationship in his life and mind.
In an unguarded trio of poems that closes the first section of Bloom — “Cardinals, Sabino Canyon,” “Story,” and “Arc” — Buntin writes of the grittier and darker intimacies of connecting with nature, such as bare feet on boulders, the scraping of skin that spills blood on stone, animals that attack, and rivers that drown. Much of the collection brushes on death and danger, given how intricate the connection is between that and its themes. In this way, Bloom is very different from other poetry collections on nature and family; it does not glorify either without also embracing their darker realities of both and celebrating their complexity.
The greatest gesture Buntin makes to this complexity of topic is the detailed glossary that follows the poetry, defining desert terms that appear in Bloom, from cholla, to saxifrage, and back around to chitinous. Initially, I thought a glossary would take away from the mystery of the language, but instead it serves to add meaning to the work without limiting it.
Review: Bloom reviewed by John Freeman for Mid-American Review
Simmons B. Buntin’s second collection of poems masterfully weaves the landscape and plant life of the American Southwest into a personal language. The taxonomies readers encounter here possess none of the Linnaean tendencies toward destruction (although Buntin knows that language) but make us believe that redemption through naming is possible. Even the glossary Buntin provides at the end of the book borders on the mytho-poetic. Take for example his definition of “Creosote”: “A long-lived and airy shrub native to the Sonoran desert with small, waxy yellow-green leaves. The creosote releases a distinct aroma before rainstorms that is often referred to as ‘the smell of the desert.’” Buntin knows his place because it is his place, and the plants here take on a haunting totemic quality.
Bloom is complex, melding personal tragedy and naturalistic archetypes. Take the final poem, “Inflorescence,” an eight-part mini-epic paralleling the recovery of the poet’s daughter after a “plunge through the plate window” at a friend’s house with the toppling death of an agave on the poet’s property. The girl in the poem does not die. She slowly recovers from her wounds. The agave does, but not before disseminating its tubular suckers, and passing itself on in the inflorescence of the poem’s title. Buntin is not sentimental; however, the metaphorical death in “Inflorescence” is the death of the sentimental father.
As a consequence of this sublime disillusionment, Buntin’s naturalism takes a problematic turn in such poems as “In May I Consider My Websites,” “Drawing,” and “Amazon.com.” In “In May ...,” the “white-winged dove at the feeder” and “the Mexican birds of paradise” the poet imagines are not pastoral antidotes to digital industry but the avian origin of digital logic. “Amazon. com” conflates digital marketing with nature, ending with the line “the air burning with recommendations.” Digital culture cannot be construed as “unnatural,” says Buntin in “Drawing,” nor can any energy that bridges collective synapses, regardless of the unsavory ends it seeks. A lesser poet would endorse nostalgia, sequestering the organic from the inorganic, while Buntin sees
the smudge of atomic shadows —
the two anti-shadows
of sitting lovers who, when
the bomb blossomed
overhead, could not comprehend
the unbearable light ....
Is the light “pouring over everything and nothing,/like that last terrible night in Eden” bearable? Can we make disillusionment mean something by naming it? This unflinching poetry suggests that we have a chance. —John Freeman, Oakland University
Review: Bloom reviewed by Jarret Keane for the Tuscon Weekly review
Nature of Family
Simmons B. Buntin's second eco-poetry book focuses on domestic life
It's hard to believe it has been more than five years since I reviewed
Tucson-based poet Simmons Buntin's wonderful debut collection, Riverfall
A lot happened in the intervening years in Buntin's life. He embraced
family life in a way few poets can manage—much less write about
movingly—and his latest book, Bloom
published by Ireland's Salmon Poetry, uses the natural world as a
metaphor for the tender bonds of domesticity, and vice versa.
This is environmental verse that avoids every cliché of the genre,
choosing instead to carve a path that lies somewhere between the easy
narrative grace of Billy Collins and the rich, organic imagery of Mary
Oliver. Bloom brings into sharp relief the awakening of a man, husband
and father as he realizes that he and his loved ones are but sweet,
fleeting dreams. This realization makes his wife and daughters, and the
plants and animals around him, even more precious.
Opening poem "Whether You Are Listening or You Are Reading" doesn't
possess any real nature in it, yet it sets the tone. Buntin poetically
renders the simple pleasure of reading at a table as his wife listens to
the radio via earbuds, laughing at what she hears; meanwhile, their two
little girls nap in another room. It's not a high-concept poem, sure,
but Buntin wrings significant and eye-moistening meaning from the moment
when the house is quiet except for the "burbling springs of laughter"
and "the murmur of turning pages" while the kids are (finally) asleep.
Anyone blessed with this kind of rare experience knows how blissful it
"Shower," meanwhile, offers a literal explosion of insect life in the
Buntin home. After an afternoon spent collecting ladybugs from the
garden, his daughter unleashes the entirety of her little "bug house"
indoors, where the poet's attention had remained frozen in the pages of a
book of Irish verse; the room is suddenly showered in "pure red/joy."
The relationship between art and nature is always a lopsided affair in
Buntin's view, since nature always triumphs, always succeeds in dragging
us back to the hard insight that, while great books are often worth
reading, a great life is definitely worth living.
That said, I am a fan of cynical, dark-minded (post-)Beatnik writers
like Charles Bukowski and Denis Johnson, and there are instances when
Buntin's writing seems too sentimental, at least to my taste. His
relationship with nature, while deeply intellectual and profoundly
spiritual, is rarely, if ever, physical. Halfway through the book, I
longed to encounter a poem in which he actually hiked a trail or climbed
a boulder (as his daughter does in "Arc") or did something other than
gorgeously ponder the interrelated beauty of nature and family ("Desert
Jazz") or the aesthetic beauty of his family in nature ("Bosque"). A few
poems seem forced, too; for instance, a lyrical meditation on the
anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima ("Drawing") seems better
suited for another collection, and an odd William Carlos Williams
tribute set thousands of miles away in SoHo doesn't have much in common
with the exceptional, domestic-themed work that surrounds it.
Methinks the poet felt this distance somewhat, too, which perhaps
explains why he ends Bloom with a long-form and very primeval poem.
"Inflorescence" deftly weaves the horror and of his daughter's emergency
surgery after having fallen through a plate-glass window with the
cyclical death, then gradual, glacial bloom of the agaves in his
backyard. Buntin expertly captures the emotional nuances of watching
something wounded come alive again through compelling narrative
language. First, the agave:
The agave hoards carbohydrates
in its succulent heart,
gathering sugar and starch
as the leaves spike, each tip thin as a whip
scorpion, black as the widow
in her gauzy web.
And then the daughter's eventful healing, itself cast in insect imagery:
After three weeks the surgeon cut away
my daughter's cast, exposing
her flesh and the black wound curving
across pale shin like a centipede—
each stitch a violet leg,
each segment a stain of dead skin
or angry scar.
Of course, nature and family aren't always as enduring as Buntin's
poetry suggests, but they can be. Bloom is breathtaking and a great
improvement upon the awesome, abstract word-stew of his previous book.
It's a new and exciting collection.
Simmons B. Buntin’s second collection of poetry, Bloom, was recently released by Salmon Poetry. The book immediately brought me back to my introduction to Buntin’s work. We published his poem, “Desert Jazz,” here at Shaking this past April. I recall feeling a distinct pang deep inside my chest at the beauty in the playfulness of the daughter and the moment where the narrator realizes he is the culprit—his tradition of music is carried on to her.
. . .
Bloom, like “Desert Jazz,” which is included in the collection, carries in this tradition and truly sings.
An important part of being a writer is to surround yourself with people who understand your pursuit of the craft. These people can spark ideas, they can test your creativity. But, more importantly, they can understand you in a way that few can.
I had the opportunity to attend graduate school with Simmons Buntin. This means I was able to see his skills as a writer, and to see his skills as a writer grow. But I saw something else about this guy: He’s so much more than a poet. His poetic skills – empathy, compassion, listening, awareness – infuse everything he does in life. He’s a man in the world with environmental passions, a man who listens to opposing views with openness and humility, a man who takes pride in being the best husband and father he can be.
Simmons Buntin’s latest book—Bloom—has recently been released by Salmon Poetry. I highly recommend putting this book on your reading list, not only because it’s a good thought-provoking read and not only because it supports poetry, but because it supports a good person in this world who just so happens to be a talented poet.