Return to Paradise Valley

Poetry from Paradise Valley. Edited by Edward Byrne. San Antonio: Pecan Grove Press, 2009. 134 pp. $15. ISBN 978-1-931247-86-3. 

No, this Paradise Valley is not an old Gary Cooper movie, nor is it a retirement village in Arizona. Instead, it’s a handsome new print anthology of contemporary poetry – work selected from among poems published during the first decade of the eminent electronic journal Valparaiso Poetry Review.

VPR, originating in 1999 on the campus of Valparaiso University, under the direction of founder and editor Edward Byrne, is one of the most distinguished and longest-running poetry magazines on the web. And the anthology, assembled by Byrne – a fine poet in his own right – and out late last year, is a humdinger.

The table of contents includes the names of fifty poets, many of them quite prominent, such as Billy Collins, Charles Wright, and Claudia Emerson. A complete roster of all fifty contributors may be found on Edward Byrne’s blog, One Poet’s Notes.

Poetry from Paradise Valley is an attractive, well-designed volume, its front and back covers graced by a four-color, wraparound reproduction of “Rust Red Hills,” a painting by Georgia O’Keefe. Valparaiso Poetry Review, which comes out twice a year, features artwork selected by curator and director Gregg Hertzlieb from works in the collection of the Brauer Museum of Art on the Valparaiso University campus. 

And the publisher?  Pecan Grove Press in San Antonio has been in business since 1988 and maintains an impressive backlist of titles in contemporary American poetry. It also runs a national chapbook competition that is definitely worth checking out. 

I’ve been browsing the new anthology, and if you’re looking for good contemporary American poetry, look no further. All of the poets represented are currently active, except for the late William Matthews, who is represented by a haunting meditation on a residency at the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire.

The fifty contributors come from everywhere on the North American map, so I was curious about how many of the poems were in free verse and how many in traditional forms.  I counted forty-eight in the first category, two in the second. Margot Schilpp’s “The Fish Channel” consists of envelope quatrains, and Catherine Tufariello’s “Small Girl in a Gift Shop,” a twelve-line nonce form also rhyming abba, at least starts out like a sonnet, but drops what might have been a concluding couplet.   

Elsewhere in the collection, each of three poems – Daniel Tobin’s “Hope Chest,” Brendan Galvin’s “A Neolithic Meditation,” and Alfred Corn’s “Swiss Army Knife” – displays approximations of blank verse. 

Contrariwise, if you’re of the free-verse persuasion, this anthology has plenty to offer. My favorites? Michelle Bitting’s “Premiere” (a most timely poem during the runup to the Oscars) deftly wields the stiletto among suits and “young wannabe execs” populating an advance film showing in La-la Land. And Allison Joseph’s “Little Epiphanies” does a marvelous job of explaining “the difference between  / . . . what’s real and what’s / revealed.”

Where is the real Paradise Valley?  Probably somewhere north of Tucson.  In Spanish, Valparaiso – the name of both the third largest city in Chile and a university town in northwest Indiana – doesn’t quite translate into English as “Paradise Valley,” but rather seems to be a contraction of va al paraiso, which means something like “path to paradise,” or more exactly “goes to paradise.”

This in turn is likely what the first Europeans thought when they arrived at the site of present-day Valparaiso in South America. From all reports, it is a lovely city. Valparaiso, Indiana – another nice place to live – is of course the site of Valparaiso University, home base for VPR. 

But “paradise valley” as a play on Valparaiso is surely appropriate for a collection of contemporary poems that will both charm and entertain you.

Full disclosure

A poem of mine, “Dark Transit,” is included in Poetry from Paradise Valley. During its first ten years VPR published a number of my poems, along with an interview by Jough Dempsey and a review by David Lee Garrison. In 2008 “Dark Transit” was nominated for a Pushcart prize, and another poem of mine, “Prophet Township,” was nominated as one of the best poems published online during the year 2007. It subsequently appeared in the print anthology  Best of the Web 2008 published by Dzanc Books. My forthcoming collection, A Dance in the Streetwill contain three poems that first appeared in VPR – “Prophet Township,” “The Pool at Noon,” and “Hidden Door.” A poem of mine, “War,” is scheduled to be included in the spring 2011 issue of VPR.

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