In his third collection, My Father Says Grace, Donald Platt combines elegy with verse of larger historical allusion and reference. At the center of the book stand poems detailing a father’s stroke and slowly developing Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects one family. An extended meditation on a mother-in-law’s dying provides counterpoint to elegies for more public figures like Walt Whitman and Janis Joplin.
The private life in “the valley of the shadow of death” often gets juxtaposed with explicitly political verse. One of these poems records the racially charged conversations in a small southern town’s Amazing Grace Beauty Salon. Another describes a Vietnam protestor, famously photographed while sticking flowers in an MP’s gun barrel, alongside images from his later life as a transvestite.
The poems tend to find themselves in the midst of crisis, historical or personal. They yearn for “transport” and strive “to be ‘carried across,’ away, out, toward, back into / / some new country / where the soul improvises, croons scat to itself alone.”
“This is a book of the highest lyric ambitions. Almost every poem, however plain-spoken its subject, sets itself challenges of language and order which are met head on. On almost every page there is a marvelous to-and-fro between darkness of loss—a father’s approaching death, a brother’s vulnerability—and the exuberance of language, the sheer eloquence of organization which are no less than their due. These are wonderful poems; they make superb, wrenching reading.”
—Eavan Boland, author of Outside History: Selected Poems, 1980–1990 and Domestic Violence
“Donald Platt’s poems are fearless and generous aria-narratives, each distilling complex essences into a single, telling scene; through their attentive particularities, universal colors emerge. The abiding affirmation in Donald Platt’s work is that whatever exists must be made welcome and known. The result is an optimistic book, full of compassion, interest, and sheen, in an age when an unblended optimism is much needed.”
—Jane Hirshfield, author of Given Sugar, Given Salt and After
“Grief-struck and world-adoring, these poems—in their gorgeous and distinctive swelling and contracting tercets—say grace for a family struggling with a father’s stroke and dementia, a brother’s Down syndrome, a mother-in-law’s terminal cancer. My Father Says Grace constructs its layer on layer of elegy in a fugue-like structure, with tenderness, humor, and startling intimacy. Platt’s poems move beyond the personal circumstances of illness, loss, and proleptic grief toward something like an autobiographical metaphysics, meditating unflinchingly on a world of aging, death, and loss and saying, in its own devastating way, yes and amen.”
—Bruce Beasley, author of Lord Brain and The Corpse