Carl Dennis doesn’t tend to focus his writing on death, love, and the Big Questions. His poetry serves as a reminder—perhaps especially to people who see the form as melodramatic—that not every line of verse needs to take itself so seriously. Instead, his sweet spot is in the small things—“the minor efforts, the daily or weekly rewards and tasks that make up most of any life,” as the poet Stephanie Burt put it. (The first line of her ultimately glowing review: “Nobody calls Carl Dennis a great innovator, and I would not trust anybody who did.”)
In “Night Sky,” he takes something grand—the cosmos!—and brings it down to modest dimensions. The stars are blazing and beautiful no matter where you’re standing, he asserts. There is no need to travel to a glamorous location, no special view “for the ambitious / as if only there can their plans unfold.” He calls for the Milky Way to be compared to “a stream / or glassy roadbed or bank of flowers,” as if he’s trying to keep the galaxy humble. And yet, for all his embrace of simplicity, Dennis’s essential argument is downright existential: No matter who and where you are, and how ordinary your life is, the universe extends itself to you. And if a regular life lets you drink in the Milky Way, perhaps it’s not so small at all.
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