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Firstborn by Franco Pagnucci

(Northstar Press)

Franco Pagnucci writes lyrical poems with a hushed, natu­ralistic voice that recalls James Wright or Robert Bly. Firstborn, however, is more than simply a poetry collection—it’s a hodgepodge of verse, field notes, and short narrative prose pieces only loosely hung together by the narrative of an eagle fledgling venturing out of the nest near Pagnucci’s rural Wis­consin home. In “Spread-Eagled” we see her as she is just learn­ing to fly:


Monday morning the immature eagle was in Rose’s bottom, peeping and peeping, as usual, the thin squeals, and all day we heard her but didn’t see her.

Next morning she was on Rose’s cabin roof, spread-eagled, on the eastern side in the sun. Lying on her back as she was with wings fanned out, I thought that she had crashed there like a dumb, too-heavy chicken trying to fly.


Pagnucci seems to fill entire days watching this eagle, and minutia of her progress from growing up in the nest, to leaving and perching on a roof and, finally, learning to fly, forms a narrative arc through most of the book. By the final third of the collection the eagle has flown off, and we are left with personal updates  (Pagnucci is on crutches in several poems) and seasonal changes on the lake. These poems often have the feel of diary entries, making the mistake of assuming that nothing in the world is as fascinating as the inner life of a poet. From “May, 2015”:


Saturday, April 26, six days

before the five-day stay in St. Mary’s hospital, Duluth,

we were on the way home from St. John’s, Minnesota,

where we’d missed Father Don’s

acceptance speech for his citation and medal.


Fortunately Pagnucci offsets these bulletins with poems that inhabit the natural world, where he summons to the page graceful fields of imagery dotted with bright stabs of imagina­tion. “We Go Out Early” (which appeared in the last issue of Whistling Shade) has this quality, as does “Cerulean Warbler”:


It was a short wave

of a small light from across the lake

or the blue pulse of a star while you stare.

It was like that first open-arm kiss in a March wind

you keep trying to remember.


When Firstborn finally lands, it’s in solidly poetic territory, with the field guide and travelogue entries setting off the poems with their sheer prosaicness—like a delightfully mild cheese served with full-bodied wine.

- Joel Van Valin