The poems in Holding Ground reveal the journey of one man, and yet, these poems speak to us all—or at least anyone who has ever “felt wasted by his desires,” who has ever been “tired of wanting, / tired of morning, / tired of the way the ocean waits / for the sun to set.” With precise control of language, Willard pulls a myriad of emotions out of seemingly simple scenes: “Night blows between the frames of houses, / winding, unwinding clotheslines, between / pant legs, between sleeves, between selves.” Within the various “selves” of these poems, we see a speaker whose journey stretches beyond the last poem of this collection and reaches out into the world.
Often rooted in nature, these poems are written from a precipice, sometimes tense like “ridges of pressure / advancing,” sometimes throbbing in the quiet space before the howl of the storm: “Let’s look for shelter, he said.” The effect is an atmosphere of yearning, of earnest searching to understand the simple moments in life, to answer the question, “How do I come to know anything?”
“Intimate,” from Holding Ground:
All day I have been trying to say something
about something without talking
about the thing itself.
Here’s a bed of fresh-cut, green grass,
“Bruce Willard writes with balanced—and earned—accuracy from the heart of his experience. The natural world is not, for him, an image ‘kitty,’ but a powerful real presence that through its resistances, as well as its vexing beauty, marks out the reach of inwardness. The poems are clear windows on the defining scenes of that inwardness: love, separation, family, and coming to terms with pain and joy.” — Sven Birkerts
“In Holding Ground the poet touches the world and senses nuances in the terrain of what lives in the heart and in the mind. In a simple eloquence, Willard’s poems articulate ordinary and difficult moments to strike the genuine pitch of what it means to be fully alive. The poet celebrates our possibilities even as he knows our lives are filled with all the spirit’s dangers. The poems are clear and evocative, an elegant accomplishment.” — Afaa Michael Weaver
“A recurring theme is our inability to fully communicate. It is ironic, yet fully appropriate, to use poetry, the most open-ended literary form, to demonstrate how difficult it can be to say what you mean. It is especially appropriate here, where Willard uses a bare minimum of words to make his points. The line, ‘All day I have been trying to say something/ about something without talking/ about the thing itself’ from ‘Intimate,’ could be a definition of poetry.” Read the full review