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Book Review: A Grammar for Snow

A Grammar for Snow. Richard LuftigUnsolicited Press, July 16, 2019, Trade Paperback, 112 pages.

Reviewed by Lawrence Hartmann.

A Grammar for Snow is a mostly strong collection of poetry by Richard Luftig, a former professor of education. The topics of these poems range widely, from traditionally poetic ones (the stars, the moon, love), to more quotidian, commonplace ones (the poet writing a note to his unemployment counselor; townsfolk at the downtown coffee shop discussing an arriving snowstorm). Many of the poems deal with dying towns in the American West: boarded-up stores, empty streets, and overlooked lands and lives.

From the beginning of the book, I knew I was in the hands of a talented writer. These poems give the pleasures of simple language. They are to be read once, and again, aloud, for the pleasure of the words’ sounds.

For example, in a poem called “West River,” about a town that has seen better days, there are lines like these: “Much later, that night, a lifetime from now, West River people will lie beneath a cold white moon, tucked away in skeletons that used to be towns, dead places like the light years that grow between stars.” 

Perhaps my favorite poem of the collection comes near the end of the book. In “Bolero Silencio,” Luftig marries the ideas of samba dancing to the moon and the stars. The final lines of the poem read, “Sit now wait absolutely quiet among scattered moonlight. Even the prismed sky cannot keep us adequate company. We must dance because we have legs, love because we have nowhere left to turn.”

Of course, the poem doesn’t necessarily have to “mean” anything. In a way, that’s the best thing you can say about a good poem, that it doesn’t mean anything.

Exquisite poems like "Bolero Silencio" and many other excellent ones are published here alongside work of decidedly lesser quality. For example, there’s a poem called “Irrational Numbers,” about numbers that cannot be expressed as simple fractions. The poem ends with these words: “seeking the common denominator to lives we thought would be as easy as pi.” 

Poems like this one border on being cute, and there are a few of them in the book.

What's more, now and then, I came across a few grammatical errors and thought that the book could have used better editing.

However, for the most part, A Grammar for Snow is a lovely collection of poems about the natural world, the human world, loss, destitution, love, and other topics. If you enjoy poetry, I would recommend it. The best poems here will reward repeated readings.


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