These poems, like the title of this book, are delicious paradoxes. Though richly grounded in the natural world, they suddenly break through into moments of spiritual grace and wonder, and the authority of their cadence can unexpectedly give way to surprising leaps of language and ideas. From first to last, Mersmann’s vivid images and beneficent intelligence are a continuous pleasure.
Whether from abroad or at home, James Mersmann, through the years, has planted his poems in Alabama, where they abundantly flourish. Here they are, in all their color and brilliant line, for our pure delectation.
—Theodore Haddin, PhD, Emeritus
At a time when it is almost impossible to find any well-written, distinctive, and original poetry, it is heartening to spend time with James Mersmann's new book, which ranges from lovely nature lyrics like ‘Home Ground’ and ‘Mel Divides the Waters’ to breath catching fear poems like ‘Oil for my lamp’ and universal evocations like ‘Lighting the Lamp’. He is a travel poet, looking for the answers we can never find.
When Odysseus finally got back to the hog farm, he might have written such poems, recollections of far places and fair women. But what I hear here is more the voice of the old Adam laying out the New Eden, digging up the past, delving into what might still sustain us, naming the animals, the plants, giving every motion and emotion its just word. Words set in rows do not always flower, but in Straying Toward Home
Mersmann has created a garden of delight, a mature work of honesty and passion.
—Ann Deagon, author of There is No Balm in Birmingham
The poems, like the title of the book, are delicious paradoxes. Though richly grounded in the natural world, they suddenly break through into moments of spiritual grace and wonder, and the authority of their cadence can unexpectedly give way to surprising leaps of language and ideas. From first to last, Mersmann’s vivid images and beneficent intelligence are a continuous pleasure.
—Carroll Dale Short, author of The Shining Shining Path
These poems are truly exceptional in their concreteness, their surety of diction and tone, on a broad range of topics, from Dachau and Assisi to Kansas and Alabama farmland and a lovers’ bedroom ('A Room of Our Own'). Straying Toward Home
is, in fact, the most consistently rewarding book of poems that I have read in some time, including work by major American writers. Reading through the collection, I kept expecting a false note here, or a touch of sentimentality there, but no, Mersmann’s work persistently evokes the clearest, deepest resonance, like the sound of a gong after meditation. But as he warns, in 'Western Variations on a Zen Aphorism,' 'The metaphor is very useful for expressing a truth/ but we must take care not to mistake it for a fact.' The fact, in this case, is a Mersmann poem, and any description of it can only suggest the music, clear argument, and vivid images that inform poem after poem.
—Michael True, author and editor of ten books, including An Energy Field More Intense Than War: The Nonviolent Tradition and American Literature
There’s tremendous vitality in Jim Mersmann’s poems and a strong sense of physical wisdom. Like Whitman, he digs deeply into the earth and finds a cosmos there. It’s good soil and good soul. From Kansas to Bavaria to Italy to Alabama, and at so many points in between, Straying Toward Home
works that soil with a feel for the hard and beautiful truths of the world.
—Jim Murphy, author of The Memphis Sun