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The Well: New and Selected Poems

by Kenneth Sherman

Kenneth Sherman’s collection of new and selected poems spans more than 20 years. The new poems that open The Well reflect the writer’s maturity, his hard-won wisdom, and his sophisticated craft. The selected poems that follow in chronological sequence show Sherman’s control and range of thematic interests.

Sherman’s poetic landscape is dominated by the domesticated garden and the depths of lake and ocean. Across the collection, however, the speaker sees beyond fenced-in property and below the surface of water to “the mysterious stirrings” that resonate throughout these poems. The adult’s fascination with water is rooted in boyhood summers spent at a lakeside cottage, described in evocative detail. The achievement of the new poems lies in Sherman’s subtle melding of childhood memory and adult perspective. The child’s sense of wonder at “the deep” is celebrated by a mature speaker who understands the enduring significance of fleeting moments. In quiet understatement, these poems illuminate the “absence … in the cold, verdant depths.”

Sherman’s garden poems reveal an abiding interest in insects, tiniest creatures that traverse “time’s imprint.” His garden also is a rich metaphor for modern life. Despite human effort to subdue and manicure the landscape, the garden is a world of its own, “a season, transient.”

Poems of travel fill out the collection. A cosmopolitan traveller, Sherman casts his careful eye over foreign cityscapes and sees “music and decay” everywhere, visions that take him back to the familiar landscape of home where he observes his sleeping daughter, plays baseball with his son, and remembers his father. This distant father’s fedora becomes a potent symbol for “what he could not give./What he gave/I hold now in my hand.” The Well is punctuated by such crystalline images, the mark of a seasoned and well-travelled writer.