Only the most patient observer could write the kind of poems James Richardson writes. Not patient the way we tend to think of it: “be patient,” the admonition, scold or punishment. Or “waiting patiently,” which usually means waiting longer than you want and simmering about it but pretending not to. His patience is a way of receiving the world—taking in what he sees and experiences as it is. Exploring both his inner landscape and the outer world, he notices what he notices and writes out of the richness of his noticings. Both self-reflective and self-deprecating, the humor in his work invites us to laugh at ourselves and to challenge our own assumptions and viewpoints. Richardson’s addictive aphorisms are some combination of Zen koan and Yogi Berra gaffe. Their deep truths resonate precisely because of the levity with which they are spoken. Here are a few of my favorites:
The real danger of success is thinking you know the reasons for it.
The lonelier the road the more creatures you startle.
If you think you might be lost, you are. If you know you’re lost you’re at least free to look for the way.
The modesty of avoiding repetition is the vanity of thinking they must have been listening the first time.
Beware the god who answers your prayers. He is recruiting.
In his poems, we see evidence of Richardson’s fascination with science and natural processes, often coupled with a focus on things of the home—the trees and animals in the yard, the maintenance of a house, the changing seasons. With that comfortable landscape as our base, we are able to delve into more mysterious places in the mind and in human relationships. We can accept the mysteries and the not-knowingness in the poems because as we read, we are held to something visible and palpable.
I cannot tell you what it was,
or how she said it.
My knees were freefall, and my glass
an outer planet.
I could not tell her that I heard
rain drying on the roof,
a shadow sharpening, a shovel’s
harsh then harsh in gravel.
I was the cosmonaut,
all thrusters drained,
who tumbles (one last fry of static)
out of radio range.
In interviews, James Richardson has said that having free time and unstructured time is essential to writing—that poetry is the opposite of being busy. His poems are rewarding to read as they let us wander with him through the places he has created, which so beautifully house the complexities of being human. Another lovely and moving poem can be found here.