“Safe as Lightning,” the title of Scudder Parker’s newly released book of poems, is also the title of one of the poems in the volume. But the impact of his poems is more akin to being surrounded by wisdom as well as the pleasures of blooming peonies rather than being subjected to lightning.
A many-decades-long poet, Parker — who grew up on a family farm in Danville and now resides in Middlesex — has also held a wide variety of other jobs, including serving as a four-term Vermont state senator, a Protestant minister and a consultant for renewable energy, all of which illustrate his ongoing commitment to helping others. Throughout this, his first published book of poems, Parker illustrates his awareness of, gratitude for and caring commitment to the entire natural world, his family, his gardens and Vermont.
In “Safe as Lightning, Parker paints pictures of the living world yet also acknowledges, without fear or hesitation, full awareness that the gift of life is temporary. His poems overflow with gentleness and appreciation for everything from Hubbard squashes, apples at harvest time, and dying elm trees to his many winged friends. Parker’s relationship to a budding peony is as full of admiration and deep appreciation as is his relationship to all other aspects of nature — birds, seasons, light and shadow, firewood, animals of the two-legged and the four-legged variety.
Parker’s poems are humble and searching, as well as full of profound reflection and the power of words. His voice and vision are consistent throughout. In his poems, he shares stories about such events as early childhood, Jersey cows, November rainstorms, muddy roads, longing and the many other aspects of the ebb and flow of a truthful, rural life.
His poems convey the story of a life lived with trust, respect, care and awareness. They authentically connect the reader to the life of the poet as well as to the broader meaning and value of life. Occasionally, Parker’s poems travel out of state on a trip, but for the most part, these poems illustrate a life well lived in Vermont and seen through gentle, honest, skilled eyes.
Poems in the book that are especially memorable to this reviewer include: “When We Grow Our Own,” “Our Turn,” “Affection,” “Salvaging Beauty,” “Perspective,” “Comforter,” “Art of the Poem,” “Distance,” “Chamois Shirt” and “We Never Know.” But the entire volume resonates with deep beauty, reflecting Parker’s awareness as well as his skills as a writer.
Parker is a master of subtle rhymes in his poems, and he knows exactly how much to say in each line, without overdoing descriptions or emotions. For example, in one poem, he writes: “I used to understand so many things./ Now everything surprises me;/ anger shows up on my doorstep/ like an orphan./ Sadness is a thread of light/ I try to pick off the carpet.”