Grave Reading by Richard Carr
A stark poetry collection by Minnesota resident Richard Carr. Released in 2014, Grave Reading travels through time, both tangible and otherwise.
Grave Reading is the story of a widower surviving loneliness, spiritual isolation, and the tribulations and trivialities of daily life, a journey that starts with nothing more than mementos: his wife’s nightgown, her hand-painted lacquer tray, some “seashells and fossils in a shoebox.” As the years pass, he travels through realms of loss and emptiness—his own aging and illness, his inner ugliness and outward anger—but gradually rediscovers the love that “lights a memory of her face” and opens the possibility of finding her again in his own heart, where he “left her last / on a hilltop by the sea.”
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""Grave Reading" by Richard Carr takes the reader on a very human journey with a man who’d lost his wife to some unnamed illness. You might think the poems are about grieving and loss, and some are. But they are most definitely about life. I think it begins with the title. It’s kind of ambiguous. Are the poems going to be a journey through a cemetery reading the tombstones? Or is the reader being urged to take these poems seriously? Or maybe, tongue-in-cheek, it means the opposite by being ambiguous: it’s hard to know for certain just what to do in the face of loss, and also in the face of life.
My regular readers know that I’m a fan of Richard Carr’s poetry. I also know him as a neighbor, although I see him rarely, and communicate mostly online with him. Richard knows by now, I hope, that I work hard to give an honest, clear assessment of a book, and I also try to be constructive in whatever criticism I may have.
For "Grave Reading," I really have no criticism. What I “found” in this poetry was what I have found before in Richard’s work: attention to detail, startling images, command of language, and depth of insight into the human condition. What I also found in this book surprised me: it’s positive, even uplifting at times. This made me nervous. And yet, I sensed an undercurrent of joy, sometimes amusement, and sometimes bemusement in this book. There is as much light in these poems as there is dark."