Saner, Reg(inald Anthony)
SANER, Reg(inald Anthony)
Nationality: American. Born: Jacksonville, Illinois, 30 December 1931. Education: St. Norbert College, West De Pere, Wisconsin, B.A. 1952; University of Illinois, Urbana, M.A. 1956, Ph.D. in English 1962. Military Service: U.S. Army Infantry, 1952–53: Lieutenant; Bronze Star. Family: Married Anne Costigan in 1958; two sons. Career: Freelance photographer, Illinois, 1952–56; photographer and writer, Montgomery Publishing Company, Los Angeles and San Francisco, 1956; assistant instructor, 1956–60, instructor, 1961–62, assistant professor, 1962–67, associate professor, 1967–72, and since 1973 professor of English, University of Colorado, Boulder. Awards: Fulbright scholarship, 1961; Borestone Mountain award, 1972; Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman award, 1975; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1976; Creede Repertory Theatre prize, 1981; University of Colorado Distinguished Research fellowship, 1983; Colorado Governor's award, 1983; Quarterly Review of Literature 45th Anniversary award, 1989; Colorado Center for the Book award, for nonfiction, 1993. Address: 1925 Vassar Drive, Boulder, Colorado 80303, U.S.A.
Climbing into the Roots. New York, Harper, 1976.
So This Is the Map. New York, Random House, 1981.
Essay on Air. Athens, Ohio Review Books, 1984.
Red Letters. Princeton, New Jersey, Quarterly Review of Literature, 1989.
The Four-Cornered Falcon: Essays on the Interior West and the Natural Scene. Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1993.
Reaching Keet Seel: Ruin's Echo and the Anasazi. Salt Lake City, University of Utah Press, 1998.*
Critical Studies: Interviews in Gumbo Review (Fort Collins, Colorado), spring 1977, Aspen Anthology (Colorado), fall 1978, and Ohio Review 32 (Athens), 1984; by James Reiss, in American Book Review, 13 (3), June 1991.
Reg Saner comments:
Living among rocks, clouds, and trees in Colorado, I tend to get my most immediate impulses from them. Nature poetry, always a crossroads where earth and air intersect. My feel for things and men is temporal. Man on the edge, the dangerous edge of things, fascinates me. I look into ways our address defines us because I believe what we are will always be where.
Being an atheist, I write poetry that is perhaps naturally religious, though mountain environment, by its potential hostility, staggers anyone's complacent sentimentalizing. Being a Catholic atheist, I have a sense of man that is historical. Wherever I look, either among Anasazi Indian ruins of Chaco Canyon or into the brickwork lining Brunelleschi's cupola over the Duomo of Florence, I hear people saying, "We were." The sound is of mayflies hitting ice.* * *
Poems about mountains have a tendency to diminish into what Reg Saner calls "pure calendar art," but even as he acknowledges this risk, Saner shows how to avoid the traps in Climbing into the Roots. By making the mountains his "chosen place," Saner has staked out a claim that will long bear his mark, even if he eventually abandons it for some other territory. For Saner's concern is less with the grandeur of the mountains than with the perspective they allow, "this difficult magnificence / where we are most our own." In these poems he climbs into a cleaner, purer air where, feet planted firmly on rock, he can look out to look in, just as he has climbed up to get into the roots:
Under the rosy foreskin of dawn,
turned for a parting glance, I leave
and take all I can. The mountain's huge
bite of glacial cirque
hovers, a small glass square
pressed to the shape of a tent,
with, still slightly warm,
a sleep print. All summer I'll come
and go, eating spaces like these
to make sure.
My death must be a simply enormous death.
Throughout Saner's poems one feels an embracing sense of place, a blend of the physical and the spiritual, but even more impressive is the enlarged time frame within which this place—the American Rocky Mountains—is so finely realized. In a manner reminiscent of Loren Eiseley's powerful essays, Saner makes these poems compellingly human—"staring up between, guessing / how huge a dark we're in"—but the intelligence that is guessing here is quite aware that the mountains on which he stands evolved from an earlier geological state and, further, that they are now posed "under gravity's big guns," ready to wear or crash down to become the sand of the desert below. The tension such an awareness creates prevents any of the poems from being still lifes, even though they are largely unpeopled. It also establishes a rich context for Saner to confront in concrete ways a range of issues prehistoric and historic, physical and metaphysical.
Not all of Saner's poems are set in the mountains, of course, nor are all of them flawless successes. At times his usually brilliant metaphors overreach themselves, the tensions of the poems become too explicit, the imaginative leaps are forced ("At ponds / whose tundra edges seem rich / I put my hand on Miss America's muff"). Some poems in Climbing into the Roots, especially "One War Is All Wars," "Flag," and "Smiling at 180," appear to contribute little if anything to the otherwise unified trajectory of the book. Saner is not usually his best in small situations, and when he moves away from the mountains, his poems sometimes seem to lose vital energy and become more self-consciously rhetorical. Fortunately, such breaks are few.
One of the qualities that distinguishes Climbing into the Roots is that so much of it appears to be the product of mature, intelligent listening. Saner accepts the rhythms operating on the mountains ("timing / our talk to the tent's nylon whip and crackle" or, as he puts it in another poem, "To make talk, we listen"), and he channels his energy into confronting the experience and resisting facile interpretations:
Like a silence coming out of the stones,
the universe flying at terrible speeds
further into itself.
If it is not here it is nowhere.
The stillness where all words are kept.
In an age when the hard sell has become commonplace, it is a rare pleasure to find such fertile listening in so many excellent poems. And it is clearly one of the reasons the best of Saner's work has a lasting quality. He has listened with sensitivity to enrich and enlarge, rather than exploit, his experience, and thus he can now take us closer to "the place that we know / must always / be part of the distance."
—Stanley W. Lindberg