Ploughshares, Philip Levine, Fall 2007
Philip Levine recommends Space Walk, poems by Tom Sleigh: "Sleigh's reviewers use words such as 'adept,' 'elegant,' and 'classical.' Reading his new book, I find all those terms beside the point, even though not one is inaccurate. I am struck by the human dramas that are enacted in these poems, the deep encounters that often shatter the participants and occasionally restore them. What delights me most is seeing a poet of his accomplishments and his large and well-earned reputation suddenly veer into a new arena of both our daily and our mythical lives. For the writer, such daring may be its own reward; for the reader, it is thrilling to overhear a writer pushing into greatness." (Houghton Mifflin)
The Hopkins Review, Douglas Basford, January 2008
“Sleigh’s [work] is among the most full-bodied, expansive verse being written in America today... Sleigh’s latest collection, Space Walk, is a continuation of the important work in his book just previous, Far Side of the Earth... The arc of memory and the haunting of the deparated are indelible marks. I trust only a handful of poets to write about ghosts—heaney, Merrill, Sleigh...top my list. Sleigh’s hard-earned knowledge of the “nekuia—“Where is the zone,//Imperishable, I must enter?” shows through in the almost-gossamer strangness of his vision. In “Oracle,” perhaps the strongest elegy for a parent I’ve read in recent years, he resurrects his father, a government scientist, on the day of a major test of a Titan rocket...Sleigh has a finely tuned Pop sensibility, as he would put it himself, having quoted Arthur C. Danto on this point in a Bread Loaf lecture that now appears in Interview with a Ghost: “an unembarrassed conviction that life’s shadowy meanings or non meanings lie in its ordinary terrors and troubles, objects and appetites...”
Bookslut, Jason Jones, September 2007
“Tom Sleigh wrote a very fine essay in the Winter 2006 issue of Virginia Quarterly Review. On "Self as Self-Impersonation in American Poetry," Sleigh protests both the merciless exposure of subjectivity of some contemporary poets and theorists and the naively pretheoretical stance of others (he calls this latter view an "almost preliterate hostility") in defending the poetic self. He points out, perfectly reasonably, that an ambivalence about the self -- or, rather, an interest in the possibilities of a contested self -- is a consistent strain in American poetry from Anne Bradstreet to the present. Ultimately, he values "[d]issonance of feeling, the disrelation of 'I' to any settled viewpoint, which is a way of being that seems foreclosed to the 'mind at rest'" in poems, and he wants to find an urgent commitment to these problems whenever he reads...the essay is a valuable jumping-off point for the selves of Space Walk, Sleigh's seventh book of poems....
September 11 , the war in Iraq, sexually transmitted diseases, rape, and the lesser traumas of love and family life are all taken on here, frequently in mini-groupings of poems that set off reverberations of meaning and feeling. I suspect Victor Hanson, the designated classicist for neo-conservative warmongering, will not much care for Sleigh's use of Tacitus, Achilles, and other persons
from that grand tradition -- though he would be the poorer for it. Sleigh binds his interest in the flexibility of the poetic self to a series of experiments in form -- there are many poems that double in on themselves in odd, slanting ways, complicating that "sentimental blueprint, / lacking depth -- / a ruled axis X and Y / whose illusions / were bearable... / then unbearable..." so many of us carry (Sleigh's ellipses). Many have wondered whether we in the West have "grit" enough for the war on terror, a truly weird question Sleigh inverts: in this war, "our knowledge is the knowledge / of drifting sand, grit in the cupboard, / grit under the bed where a doll's head, / button eyes open, lies forgotten." Sleigh's formal control and classicism give these poems a striking authority.
...Space Walk is a fine collection of poems, particularly when viewed from Sleigh's own criteria of self-impersonation. For these poems' conversation with one another yields that "dissonance of feeling" he values. (For example, tracking the idea of necessity, particularly historical necessity, across these poems, is fascinating.) There are many poems that confound political or social engagement with sheer denunciation; Tom Sleigh offers up a quite different relation to the world.”
By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, April 1, 2007; Page BW12
Certain scenes keep returning in memory to represent something essential in a life, the way bits of a movie trailer represent the movie -- a scrap of dialogue, a facial expression, a landscape. Poetry, by creating such a scene in one life -- something Mother once said, for example -- can crystallize and hold up for inspection forces that govern life in general. Poetic attention gives the circumstances of a moment in one life some of the enduring qualities of myth. Here is an extraordinary poem of that kind from Tom Sleigh's new book, “Space Walk”:
Out in the garden, the wind was like a dog
digging in the snow, digging with its nails
to make a bed to lie down in against the freezing air:
and in my exhaustion, my stupefied numb thought
dug and dug its way down to where I knew
you were--though how could I believe it?
Once, your irony and honesty refused
to let you say, "Oh yes, my son the genius!"
when I showed you a poem-- saying with Groucho deadpan,
as you handed me back the paper, the typed words
already a little smudged: "Hopkins is a good poet."
And then you recited, " Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?. . . " winking
at the poets not yet born . . . poets who would
come after me, poets who would not believe
there was any such woman as you,
who would say of them and their poetry,
shrugging a little, smiling your sly, lopsided grin:
"How old are you, hon? From what I've read,
your sex life must be very important to you."
Digging in the snow, digging with its nails
down deep in the snow, the wind kept trying
to hollow a hole deep enough to escape its own bitter
blowing of snow around the frozen garden.
The casual, good-humored, even detached language of "with Groucho deadpan" does not conceal the fact that this little moment leaves not just a wound, but a scar. The specific dialogue between mother and son, the image of the restless wind churning snow with doglike persistence, the phrase quoted from Gerard Manley Hopkins, the unsettled and unsettling mixture of comedy and wound, communication and rage are elements that have all the tremendous, expansive and universal eloquence of the particular.
—Publishers Weekly (Mar. 2007)
Sleigh (The Far Side of the Earth) has slowly, and justly, won a reputation for his clean-lined, sinewy poems about tough men, wounded bodies and all the forms of strength—intellectual, moral, aural, physical, emotional. His seventh book of verse...may be his saddest and most humane. Stanzas about Homeric violence, and about its modern counterparts, frame understated, nearly tearful depictions of troubled lovers (gay and straight), grieving survivors and the last days of the poet's father, "moving with the clumsy gestures/ Of a man in a space suit—the strangeness of death/ Moving among the living." A Gerhardt Richter painting conjures reincarnations of Hercules, compelled by mean gods to "the fate he must fulfill, slaughtering/ with his club whatever comes into his way"; drag shows suggest obituaries; radio broadcasts look forward to the Earth's end; and the Middle East, ancient and modern, echoes with emblems of oblivion: "We will be covered by the dune,/ and uncovered in time." Body and mind, for Sleigh, must die together, and their mutual sadness, incomprehension and struggle generates each poem. This serious focus, the well-managed ancient Greek analogues and the wrung-out credibility of the best stanzas belong to nobody but Sleigh.
—American Poet: The Jounral of the Academy of American Poets