The Water Books is a remarkable achievement for its tough wit and shimmering beauties. Vollmer is both guardian and scribe, with a naturalist’s sharp-eyed ethos that snakes through watery realms, clear up to the Northern Lights and down to her own “fire-rings’ topaz and saffron stars.” As above so below. Her Rome and Pittsburgh meet as vivid—equally adored—parallel gem-lines in a magnanimous space. She kindles a bonfire for Pasolini and calls out hunter Cheney (“O great black mask of death”) with a Keatsian capability. These poems are feats of a heightened, familial, and adhesive consciousness, very good news for us all.
I have long been an admirer of Judith Vollmer’s poems, and The Water Books is her best collection thus far. She is a poet of dizzying tonal and stylistic range, offering searching meditative poems, vividly rendered character portraits and elegies, and short poems of epigrammatic precision. Above all, she has an unerring ability to arrive at those moments when quotidian objects and events are suddenly given the aura of something more vast and more vexing: call it historical force. Benjamin’s Angel of History presides over these poems, and Vollmer ably serves this stern and powerful muse.