A vibrant collection of subdued observation, the poems in this small volume, “A Great Valley Under the Stars,” contemplate meaning everywhere — from a truck-stop toilet, over stones in the New Mexican desert and under the great expanse of sky referenced in the title.

A Great Valley Under the Stars, by Royall Tyler.
Isobar Press, Poetry.

Poet Royall Tyler, also the acclaimed translator of such classical Japanese literature as “The Tale of Genji,” takes the reader on a journey through desolate landscapes and long winters, warmed by enduring passion.

Evoking absence with precise detail is Tyler’s specialty. From cataloguing 10 different styles of New Mexican cowboy boots to relating the writing on the bathroom stalls, from contemplating “the stones that sing/or the stones that are dumb” to the “hollow reed sounds in the great sky;/the frozen lake streams with restless snow,” these poems capture the descriptions of an outsider looking in. They were written when Tyler was working for six months in New Mexico at a truck stop in Shady Grove (“There wasn’t a tree in sight”), living in Rodeo (“Population: 75 or so”) and ironically aware of a state of not belonging, of in-between-ness.

The last third of the book blossoms with companionship, and can be read as a collection of love poems. A particularly poignant series features a conversation between He and She relating the first two winters of a life spent together. From the spiderweb of prose poems to the sparse imagery of tanka, Tyler’s style also reveals the depth and range of an accomplished wordsmith caught between two extremes of isolation and togetherness. His poetry rings with the quietly wry, Zen-like awareness of humanity’s many ironies, exactly what you would expect from an expert in the subtleties of translation.

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