Robert Parham, who for many years has dedicated much of his life to his own poetry and to the poetry of others via his co-editorship (with James Smith) of the Southern Poetry Review, has in The Relentlessness of Salvation proven that the most radiant moments—when one “reaches / into the dark box / of the private universe,” one often finds the sources of “certain clarity.” This book, taken together, is elegiac in tone, but it does not preclude joy from emerging during the journey though the dark. Much of the collection focuses on relationships and the natural world, both motifs their own sources of possible darknesses, but Parham suggests that “two … drink / the darkness together, / its unquenchable length / also its most exquisite promise.”
Parham knows the importance of sound, but his aural acuity does not rob his voice’s believability—there are no sonic vortexes into which readers might fall, losing the center of the poems as they swirl through baroque ornamentations. Instead, there’s a kind of bluntness, a declarative tenor that blends well with Parham’s subtle sound devices, a confident and trustworthy marriage of manner and meaning. For instance, in “Because I Live in Savannah,” Parham’s facility is clear: “Perhaps it is the way the edge / on words wears smooth as if rubbed / against cobblestones near the river, / and the herons raise white questions . . . .”
Too, for a single collection of considerable heft at nearly one-hundred pages, I did not, as I often do, experience reader fatigue. The poems pivot sharply and quickly into each other, but as entities they remain distinct—nothing in the book blurs or repeats itself, even if Parham’s central concerns—the natural world, relationships, aging, identity, and place—ring consistently through The Relentlessness of Salvation.
In sum, these are great poems by a gifted writer, a writer that deserves to be known as much for his work as his editing. These poems evoke true wisdom. There is no glibness, no dull ironies. They are rare, openhearted poems; they have helped me navigate the pain life forces upon us. I am confident these poems will do the same for likeminded, sympathetic readers.