Those fortunate enough to have studied with Ira Sadoff, Arthur Jeremiah Roberts Professor of English, know personally the enormous care he devotes to his students. It is this same deep spirit of veraciousness that Sadoff brings to his readers in his latest poetry collection, True Faith.
In a world “where there’s enough suffering in unequal parts to go around,” Sadoff wonders, “how do you still say yes to the blessings of being alive?” True Faith embraces difficulty and loss and creates a willingness to face these truths. In these poems, Sadoff struggles to come to terms with a universe that is profoundly unjust, while at the same time he longs for community. The title poem sets the framework for the collection, with passive-aggressive flowers and prayers, illness, loss of jobs, painful childhood memories, overcome in a tonal shift that soars with a collective breath as a man hang-glides from a mountaintop,
And descending, until he lands tumbleweed style
In a field adjacent to the vineyard of the Lord,
Followed by beers at the Hofbrau, where we lean
Into one another with joy and shout and toast
Thinking we could have lost this one and that one,
And how quiet the earth would be, and how round.
Sadoff’s attention to diction is by turns intimate, playful, and serious. His use of slang, interruptions in logic, and shifts in tone reflects who we are as real people. Each poem contains a range of experience: “In the silences there was a great sea between us. / All right, it was more like a pond. But an icy little pond.” (“Lament”) Metaphor and simile are the connective tissue of these poems that create correspondence and relationships in their movements, because “things happen to us in terms of how we feel about them,” Sadoff has said.
True Faith doesn’t solve, or aim to solve—these poems aren’t meant to be “understood.” They are invitations. Sadoff shows us what he sees, and he wants us to join him on a journey—not to look for meaning but to gather meaning through the experience, to appreciate the preciousness of being alive, as in “For Beauty”:
Imagination’s a great gift: you can make it small,
call it escapist, transcendent, fancy, and sometimes
it walks away from the accident; it might haul you off
to a lush little meadow, or the muddy pond
where yaks dip their tongues in the gatorless water
where you can wash off the scratches and bruises.
Ira Sadoff’s imagination in True Faith provides us a salve against life’s cruelties. To borrow one of his critical phrases and turn it on his own work, we’re drawn to the poems of True Faith because they reflect the world in which we actually reside. In spite of how difficult it is, we love life so much we don’t want to lose it.
Matt O’Donnell is editor of From the Fishouse, an online audio archive of poetry, www.fishousepoems.org.