Suffused with a sense of loss, sweetly and sometimes ruefully acknowledged, Pack’s close and beautiful observations of nature are displayed, as they have been throughout his career. One feels that his contemplation of nature is a form of salvation, even though, as in the poem, “Clouds,” it reveals something like a posthumous self:
The scene reflects my swirling mind
Contriving still to shape, to see
My inner emptiness, the ghost of me
Expressed, made visible.
Pack can see himself against the largest and bleakest of backdrops, “against the multiplying void of nothing/Breeding only nothingness.” But he also sees himself, often humorously, in the context of the comically human:
An antiseptic nurse wheels a new patient,
Drowsier than I, into the room
To occupy an empty bed.
He tells me he has undergone
A triple bypass, and, without an instant’s
Hesitation, I raise up my hand
Four fingers in fluorescent light
To indicate my bypass was quadruple—
I’ve excelled in the great universal
Competition to distinguish who I am.
Pack, as always, exhibits a technical mastery that has all but disappeared from recent poetry. His meters are relaxed, creating an unusual suppleness and ease in his anecdotal narratives. This is an exceptionally readable book. The story poems are deeply moving, filled with great tenderness, charm, and wit.
—Mark Strand, author of Darker and Blizzard Of One
One finds a poignancy and a sorrow, laced always with a profound sense of humor, on page after page of Robert Pack’s comprehensive volume, To Love That Well: Selected and New Poems, work composed over the past six decades of this extraordinary poet’s life. A scent of late autumn drifts through these pages, and it is hard to read these poems, by turns comic, tragic, lyrical and epical—without feeling a sense of irretrievable loss. Yet these collected poems remain as epitaphs refusing the seductive enchantments of night even as the poet faces the inevitability of diminishment and death in these rich, accessible, distinctive missives to us—a harvest gathered against the encroaching dark. Pack’s voice continues to be reassuringly resonant with a laughter born of his deep and abiding love for what he knows by nature cannot remain.
—Paul Mariani, author of Epitaphs for the Journey: New, Selected & Revised and Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life
About the Author
Robert Pack received his B.A. degree from Dartmouth College in 1951 and an M.A. from Columbia University in 1953. He taught at the New School for Social Research in New York, at Barnard College, and at Middlebury College, where he was given the Chair of Distinguished Faculty Professor of Literature and Creative Writing, a position which allowed him to teach wherever in the curriculum his interests took him. He taught literature and creative writing classes in the English Department and the Literary Studies Program and also in the Program in Environmental Studies, where his interests in psychoanalysis, Big Bang physics, and Darwinian evolution came into play. He served as the Director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference from l973 to 1994 and taught at Middlebury College’s graduate school of English, The Bread Loaf School, for over three decades. For years Pack served the Woodrow Wilson Foundation by teaching in residence for a period of one to four weeks at various small liberal arts colleges throughout the country, most recently at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, in 2000, where he was awarded an Honorary degree in the spring of 2001.
Pack has had a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy, where he translated the Mozart librettos, and has been given awards for his poetry by the National Council of the Arts, The Borestone Mountain Award, the American Scholar Mary Elinor Smith Poetry Prize, the Dartmouth College Medal for lifetime accomplishment, and the Mortar Board of Montana award for excellence in teaching. In 2005, he was given the Dennison Presidential Award “for distinguished accomplishment that lends lustre to the University of Montana.”
His poems and essays have appeared in over a hundred magazines and anthologies, such as the American Scholar, New Criterion, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, and Yale Review. His collection of poems, Composing Voices: A Cycle of Dramatic Monologues (Lost Horse Press, 2005), was a recipient of a Montana Book Award: “Pack’s crisp, sparkling language touching on subjects of personal importance to everyone creates a wonderfully accessible collection of poetry. It is a laudable addition to Montana literature.”
For the past sixteen years Pack has taught courses in Shakespeare, Romantic Poetry, Modern Poetry, and Ways of Knowing at the Honors College of the University of Montana in Missoula and at the Osher Institute for Adult Learning. He and his wife, Patty, live in a log home with a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains in Condon, Montana.
An article about Robert Pack at The Missoulian
To Love That Well is a finalist in the 2014 High Plains Book Awards, Poetry category.
WHEAT FIELD WITH CROWS
That rough path plunging deep
into the tangle of the golden field
seems to allow no turning back
once one has entered in.
Has my life taken me this far?
I watch the flow of fleeting wings,
receding over grain unharvested,
toward dark blue sky that’s shading into
darker blue then deeper into black:
are death and ripeness inextricable?
Those agitated wings, are they
just fragments of a larger dark,
expanded and expanding far beyond
the road, the field, the vague horizon’s edge,
beyond my sight, beyond imagining?