Art Zilleruelo’s "The Last Map" explores language’s role as the mediator between humanity and nature. Combining a deep reverence for the power of language with profound anxieties about language’s tendency to contaminate that which it represents, these poems reside between the impulse to succumb to the seductive qualities of words and the drive to penetrate through words into the unmediated world. Narrative modes ranging from history to mythology, from folklore to family legends, and from cosmology to apocalyptic eschatology are simultaneously exploited for their aesthetic potency and subjected to skeptical internal critique. Each poem engages ongoing human efforts to manage and articulate encounters with the radical otherness and uncanny familiarity of the natural world. The interpenetration of humanity and nature is revealed as both exhilarating and terrifying, and, as the cumulative effects of these encounters proliferate, the contact between these two worlds becomes increasingly fraught with complications for both. As the personae that populate these poems struggle with nature within and nature without, they come to question conventional ways of understanding themselves, their relationships, and their values. They consequently begin to perceive a new world ripe with strange possibilities, a world that all of their maps, both literal and figurative, seem ill-equipped to describe. Zilleruelo's poems display a deep commitment to pursuing poetry’s aesthetic dimensions. His disciplined, musical free verse reminds readers that poems are more than mere ideas meant to be interpreted--they are also aesthetic artifacts intended to be experienced.
What People Are Saying....
The Last Map is a spiritual journey that transcends our own minuscule limitations. Imagine putting on the lenses by which the poet Zilleruelo sees the world, and the reader finds a place full of unexpected treasure. While not afraid of the darkness, this collection makes a “livable fiction” of light, and the “long liquid fibers” a movable path for the eye and the spirit, a confirmation of magic—dragons and vines and worms. With a generosity sometimes rare in poetry, Zilleruelo invites us to traverse the darkness of the human spirit unafraid, often expressing what we’ve all desired: “light enough to lead us in through the verge… where the good kindling hid.” This is not a denial of evil, but rather a calm acceptance that where there is shadow, there can also be spark. Each new reading has rendered a new discovery in this landscape, another acknowledgement of this painful duality. And as seasons shift and change, so do the shadows shift. May we all be such fertile ground where we “bleed new greens into the grass.”
--- April Pameticky
What sticks with me when reading The Last Map is Zilleruelo's bridging of the natural world to what I'd call some kind of transcendental or spiritual realm, where one finds an appreciation for those things tangible and real. Poems like "Vines" and "Other Fires" stick out for their measured language and their invitations to readers to investigate not only the world around them but the soul within all things. Elsewhere, Zilleruelo reflects on the burdens of generations in the masterful centerpiece, "The Pipe-Tree," a poem of great depth and honesty, and amongst a great many stunning lines, he concludes the collection with some of my favorite:
Have you ever felt
your heart match the second hand?
They breathe together a moment,
If my breath is the first to break,
I’ll wait for you at the lake,
and meet you where the leaves put down their stain.
Kinnell once wrote: "I long for the mantle/of the great wanderers, who lighted/ their steps by the lamp/ of pure hunger and pure thirst,/ and whichever way they lurched was the way."
With the The Last Map, Zilleruelo embarks on a similar quest, and the results are frequently stunning and always inspiring.