More Than Watchmen At Daybreak,
The brilliant new book by Cyrus Cassells.
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More Than Watchmen At Daybreak
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More Than Watchmen At Daybreak
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Comment on More Than Watchmen At Daybreak, by Spencer Reece, author of The Clerk´s Tale and The Road to Emmaus:
Praise be to More than Watchmen at Daybreak. Cyrus Cassells’ title derives from Psalm 130. The line before? “My soul is longing for the Lord.” These twelve poems log time Cassells spent in silence in a hermitage with the Benedictine Brothers at the Christ in the Desert monastery. Georgia O´Keefe’s ranch is across the street from the Brothers, and one feels her palette cured into these lines—a pewter river and a brindled roan enter the poems. “What you look hard at seems to look hard at you,” Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in his journal. Truly these poems watch us, watch the poet. Cassells waited for these poems, listening patiently for their deep harmonies, probing their quiet revelations. Written in couplets, Cassells couples one dialectic after the other: the human and the divine, the land with the stars, the secular with the religious. Throughout there is a clear strain of praise and belief, unabashed and unapologetic. The last poem ends with a “burgeoning dawn” a promise of more after this geyser of sound. What distilled magical mysterious poems! They come out of the depth of a man having worked in his craft for forty years. His head bent over his monastery desk suddenly caused him to turn emphatically to the sky. The rapid explosion and extravaganza of sound one feels almost gave this poet whiplash as he turned to the heavens. Joyful, extravagant, lyrically-packed, strange, memorable, hear this voice. The line after in Psalm 130: “for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him there is plenteous redemption.” Mercy and redemption are in short supply these days, it is a lovely thing to have Cassells as our watchman, reminding us of the promises that can come with faith “Bless me with celestial prayers,” Cassells writes. Bless these psalms.
Book Review: More Than Watchmen at Daybreak, by Cyrus Cassells
Review by Jory Mickelson, author of author of the award-winning collection Wilderness//Kingdom (Floating Bridge Press, 2019)
...“More Than Watchmen at Daybreak” opens by addressing the reader as pilgrim, a traveler, one who has come from afar or is seeking a holy place. The landscape we enter as readers is that of the high desert of Northern New Mexico, in a canyon along the Chama River. It is here, with careful attention to the land and its inhabitants, that the speaker’s entire inner cosmos begins to unfold and reveal itself.
Cassells’ twelve-part series calls upon and engages the reader as an active participant. In Section II. “Accepting the Peace of St. Francis Hermitage,” the speaker begins the poem, “Listen, out of love and good will, / I was given a hermitage—”. This is where Cassells wrote his poems, at Christ in the Desert Monastery over the course of several stays. Immersed in the rich landscape, silence, and daily prayer life of the Benedictine monks, Cassells crafted poems that seem to echo the monastic order’s founder, Benedict of Nursia. Benedict’s Rule (the handbook for how monks are to live) begins, “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instruction, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” And this is what Cassells does assiduously: listen to the land around him and let it speak out in the poems. The speaker implores the landscape’s guidance, as a pilgrim might a faithful guide:
Thawing winter: oh let me love again
The woodpecker’s artistry
In fact, it seems that it is to the river itself that the speaker returns and returns again. The Chama River anchors many of these poems, threads itself through Cassells’ consciousness, until it appears almost everywhere: “The river’s soft pistons, the river’s black silk,” or “The fleet river’s immutable hem—”.
Cassells’ poems are composed in couplets, perhaps mirroring the call and response of the monks’ recitation of the psalms three times a day at the monastery. One can almost hear them burst in to Cassells’ careful arrangements, or perhaps ghosting just behind them.
If this is true, it is the silence which really holds sway in these gorgeous, burgeoning poems. The silence in the spaces between the couplets. The silence after the em dashes. As classical music often deploys rests in an arrangement to allow the listener to pause and absorb what they have just heard—to allow the music to swell in the silence afterward—so Cassells uses language’s absence to underscore all the poems have to say. Or as Section VIII. “Monastic Silence” says:
Silence, immense silence,
Surpassing all human design.
Review of More Than Watchmen at Daybreak, Nine Mile Books, April 2020. by Laura Marello
Lannan Award-winning poet Cyrus Cassells, with six books of poetry published and two forthcoming from Four Way Books, has just published a first-ever chapbook of poems, More Than Watchmen at Daybreak.
This new book has an intriguing premise: the poems were written as the result of the poet’s stays at a hermitage at the Christ in the Desert Monastery, near artist Georgia O’Keefe’s ranch in Abiquiu New Mexico.
In this volume, the language of Cassells’ poems explores all the possibilities and contexts of this environment ... as well as the monastery itself, the meaning of the hermitage, and the context of a monk’s life.
Elements of Buddhist and Christian perspectives dovetail and fuse in the poems. The experience of being there, the development of thought / feeling, the changing weather, all advance the feeling and imagery of the poems, pushing them forward into discovery and revelation, into new ways to think about being alive and continuing on from this period of silence and inwardness. The Zen simplicity of stillness and essence also come through in this volume, which glints and sparks with its discoveries like sun on mica. Any Koans the reader might detect in these poems, promise to be revealed in re-reading after re-reading.
A profound work, deeply thoughtful, very beautiful and woven with hope, by Stephanie Sinclaire Lightsmith, Author of Creative Alchemy: The Science of Miracles and God’s Theory of Creativity- an odyssey.
In Cyrus Cassells visionary work the mundane becomes sublime and the sublime is rendered accessible, something we can touch and feel. Descriptions of haunting beauty slip with ease and grace from the poet’s pen. "With pallid embroideries of ice, / The blessed Jerusalem of the pewter river"—words that make sacred and startlingly visual the very fabric of our lives. And "Ruby-rare ornaments, / Gleaming in the brisk black cauldron / Of the midnight river’s buffeted mirror" and "As Christ in his crucible/ Became brother to the starry, limitless sky." Nature and the divine entwine like lovers, there is no separation. Swimming beneath this rich and delicious feast are pressing questions, longings—the deeply human quest.
"Thirsty, fallible, but not yet resigned, / Full of questions and parrying," More Than Watchmen at Daybreak is a tapestry of thought-provoking ideas and complex feelings and exquisite images. It took me on a journey, "From wolf’s hour to blue hour/ To burgeoning dawn." Written with a soaring mind and open heart, these are poems we need in this hour.