By: Glen A. Mazis
Publisher: Anaphora Literary Press
Publication Date: February 2012
Reviewed by: Eloise Michael
Review Date: April 3, 2012
Heraclitus famously said "Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers," which many remember as "You can't step into the same river twice." Thousands of years later many of us are familiar with this aphorism. The work of a philosopher is to find words that others will recognize as truth, a collection of words to name a feeling or suspicion that our language does not describe with a single one. If the philosopher can evoke a universal truth using only a handful of words, an image, or a metaphor, surely those words are poetry.
Author Glen A. Mazis, who teaches philosophy, explores the intersection between poetry and philosophy in his collection of poems entitled The River Bends in Time. He addresses Heraclitus directly in the poem, "Stepping into Different Waters," bringing new symbols and depth to an old idea. The poem ends with this stanza:
I think I'll have to find another
path if I want to return, not retracing
the old one, since it slopes away into the river
whose bed has changed several times like mine
with seasonal floods of mud and old furniture.
Yet, around the S-bend encircling the town
often comes the same flock of great blue herons
who have perfected their flapping,
slow, dancing walk onto the waters--
turning the river's flow
into one long dance floor. (pg. 19)
Mazis weaves philosophy into each piece in this collection, but without pretension. The poems are clear, and precise. They are accessible, while leaving room for readers to find truth and beauty on their own terms. Mazis's work is well-crafted, clean, and economical; each word serves a purpose, and many words carry layers of meaning.
The collection as a whole is cohesive. The poems are arranged, almost as a narrative, in chronological order and telling the story of the author's life. The scenes fall together like pieces of a remembered dream, each poem being only a snapshot, and each snapshot a metaphor for something larger. The River Bends in Time is worth reading from beginning to end, though the individual poems stand on their own as well.
These are poems to read slowly and to reread. Mazis juxtaposes different metaphors for the same idea, connecting moments in time which, at first glance, might seem disparate, binding them with a
single truth that runs through each. He finds meaning in the daily and mundane. His writing is personal, even intimate, without being self-indulgent. Even the most personal of Mazis's poems reaches out to his readers, speaking to something universal.
A time line weaves through the book like a river, taking readers through the seasons of a small town in Pennsylvania and the seasons of a marriage. The author leaves this place for California and returns. Ultimately he is diagnosed with cancer. The third section of the book focuses on fear, loss, and death. In the poem, "The Asymptote of Loss," Mazis writes:
On good days, I know we can't lose those we love
since time is a pool of light in which we swim
and the dead are stealthy shining columns
who slip into the sunlight,
to fire our vision,
and add a warmth that not only surrounds us
but also emerges from within us. (pg. 79)
Even the poems about fear and death retain elements of hope and humor, however. The book ends with a section entitled, "Futures to Reawaken the Past," which brings closure to the previous section and also a way forward.
Quill says: Poems that find layers of beauty and meaning in daily experiences.