Getting lost, the need to save or to be saved, what we feel and what we (or others) think we should be feeling, the advent of death, our shifting relationship to the past, ghosts—these are a few of the motifs deftly interwoven into the texture of The Life Beside This One, the dazzling and haunting new collection of poems by Lawrence Raab ’68. An essential part of Raab’s design is the ease with which we enter each poem, only to find our assumptions and expectations transformed and overturned. The uncanny and the ordinary cast reflections off each other, to the enhancement of both: “World without end, enough to get by.” Often the very last line of a poem contains a sudden reversal, a dizzying shift in perspective that opens up an unsuspected realm of possibility, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, sometimes hilarious—and sometimes all three.
The unobtrusive formal beauty of each poem, as well as that of the shape of the book as a whole, makes musical analogies particularly tempting. It is appropriate, then, as we approach the book’s final pages, to find “The Variations,” a poem built around Glenn Gould’s performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which many of the book’s themes subtly mirror. Raab, a two-time finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, has given us here his finest book to date. These poems attune our sensitivity to the delicate complexities, perplexities, and wonders of our existence, with poignancy, humor, and an unerring voice that invites our trust.