Gary Gildner’s New Collection of Poems ‘Calling from the Scaffold’

Rebecca Sharpe

Gary Gildner’s new book of poems, Calling from the Scaffold, has just been published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. It is the SaddleBrooke resident’s ninth full-length collection, six of which have appeared in the prestigious Pitt Poetry Series.

Poet Grace Schulman, winner of the Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in American Poetry, says of this book, “Gary Gildner’s poems possess us quietly, with vivid, heartfelt tales of mountain landscape, family, and friends. Deeply human, ever compassionate, he can feel so close to a character as to speak for her, as in an ambitious sequence of a nun who recalls her past. Gildner engages us with an ear tuned to the music of the line and to the speech of his beloved West, authentic and as fresh as mountain air.”

The nun poem that Schulman praises, “Sister Lou,” is stunning.

Editor/poet David Baker says, “Calling from the Scaffold finds our poet full of the fearless wit and good cheer that we have come to treasure from him. In 30 new poems—lean, lyrical, narrative-forward, crisp as mountain rivers—he traces the contours of memory, family, love, and loss. Here are rodeos and black-and-white movies, Western owls and haunted ‘dun-colored hallways’ of schools and family homes—a wide landscape of familiar scenes deepened, made strangely true again, through the poet’s masterful art. Reading a Gary Gildner poem is like ‘a good rain that rinses the garden.’”

Here’s how “Sonata for Water” begins:

After the rush of snowmelt and rain

we ease down the mountain to collect

rocks from the river’s flank

on this side. Saving those

across the current for autumn,

when we can pick our way over

in the year’s lowest flow,

using an old stick to stay steady.

We favor rocks shaped like turtles,

round on top and scored by years

of birds and small scurrying

animals pausing to give forth

their favorite airs. Placing them

around home, we follow such tracks

so we may gracefully meet

and surprise each other

by our balancing act.

Before moving to SaddleBrooke, Gildner lived in the Clearwater Mountains of Idaho’s panhandle. One spring, a bear tore apart a sturdy compost box he’d built with planks and spikes, an event that inspired “Hungry,” which ends:

she was hungry all right, bear-

hungry after a good long sleep

and quite likely eating for three

those two babies back in the den

blind whining and wanting

their milk yes sir friends

sour is sweet things break

the yearning returns home

and abroad hungry is hungry.

Gildner’s poems have received many awards, including Robert Frost and National Endowment Fellowships, and the Iowa Poetry Prize for his 1997 collection The Bunker in the Parsley Fields. He has read his poems on NPR, at the Library of Congress, Manhattan Theatre Club, and 92nd Street Poetry Center in New York, Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, and at some 300 colleges and universities.