Compass & Clock Review

Compass & Clock by David Sanders. Ohio University Press, 2016.

Review by Mary Riley


If you have never considered (or always feared) reading or writing poetry in verse, you’re in for a treat. David Sanders’ most recent collection, Compass & Clock, illustrates the subtle use of rhyme, combined with accessible diction and other traditionally formal poetic elements, to produce a beautifully musical poetry without sacrificing tone, depth of meaning, or humor.

Sanders employs a variety of techniques to create compelling poetry. For example, the poems written in free verse rely on associative wordplay, subtle time shifts and buried patterns to create textures which contribute to their overall atmosphere and mood. In “The Observatory,” the speaker recounts his excitement in exploring the mysterious, unattended building as a young child: “[I] found / the front door propped ajar. I knew whoever / left the place unlocked would be awhile. / I slipped inside, adrenalin on cue.” 

In addition, Sanders uses full-, near- and internal rhyme so deftly that the reader barely notices its use and role in creating structure in many of the collection’s formal poems. In “Waste of Time (The Landfill),” a poetic commentary on materialism (among other things), the speaker relates: “He pointed / to a spot as close as we’d dare / get to the edge, where we let / loose the untolled measures / of time, in the shadow / of buzzards, and time’s erasures.” Although many of the poems contain a sense of loss and regret upon recollection, Sanders’ language elevates these observations to places of fragile, impermanent beauty.

Sander’s Compass & Clock draws its title from “Dick’s Island,” a poem both humorous and serious in turns and which tells of the speaker’s viewing the migration of monarch butterflies: “[t]he deliberate / orange butterflies, all compass and clock, / rest and gather and move on, away from here. / And we, straddling for balance, go right on cycling.”

Through this collection, Sanders invites us to meditate upon the passage of time, and how life’s passing contains both obsessive-worthy greatness and the poignantly mundane. A reader would be hard-pressed to not feel the world slowing down while gently attending to the pages of this book. Try turning off the cell phone and reading a few of the poems aloud. It will do you a world of good. I promise.

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