The autumnal elegies of Ghost Variations burn and coalesce with grief. But the light they give off is beautiful. For years I have suspected he is the finest living American poet. Ghost Variations confirms this.
Elton Glaser’s ninth book of poems is haunted by the loss of his wife, each April bringing back the memory of her death. The opening line confesses the struggle to find a language for this grief: “I’m learning to speak in the accents of adieu.” As the book progresses through the seasons, it evokes the places that remind him of their times together, in the South of their youths, in the Midwest of their long marriage, and in their travels here and abroad. And yet there is also another strain that keeps breaking through, the particulars of joy in family and the natural world, grandsons and “swaggering lilies,” and a swan like “a sullen bride in her white finery.” With an irrepressible wit and a music that enlivens his lines in both celebration and elegy, Glaser never forgets that, as Wallace Stevens said, “Memory without passion would be better lost.”
Once you’ve entered Elton Glaser’s dazzling, indomitable world, with its seasons of eviscerating sorrow pitted against the resurrection of a dahlia’s ‘posh medallion’ and the lilt of a robin’s ‘step and song,’ you’ll know you’re in the hands of a master.
The deeply moving Ghost Variations immerses readers in the ongoing experience of grief, capturing its comingling of ‘solace and ache’ following a spouse’s death. Glaser’s elegant, lyrical images embody exile and restlessness. In sorrow’s depths, Glaser lifts us from our shared heartbreak to unexpected grace—‘a joy that can’t account for itself.
Elton Glaser is distinguished professor emeritus of English at the University of Akron, where he also directed the University of Akron Press and edited the Akron Series in Poetry. He is the author of eight poetry collections, most recently The Law of Falling Bodies and Translations from the Flesh. With William Greenway, he coedited I Have My Own Song for It: Modern Poems of Ohio. Among his awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council, the Iowa Poetry Prize, the Crab Orchard Poetry Award, and the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize.