The “North End” in the title of Judith Robbins’ new collection, “The Bookbinder’s Wife and More Poems from the North End,” refers to her first book, “The North End” where we encountered detailed recollections of an emotionally grueling childhood in Worcester, Massachusetts. So the new book indeed returns to that time, 60-plus years ago, but with more perspective from the everyday present, which is filled with the pain of the past but also strong elements of faith, hope and love.

Characteristic lines from Robbins’ North End capture the feel of that grief- and fear-haunted past: “I walked home // alone from Saturday Mass, when / dread hung from factory windows / where nobody worked on weekends.” But in the steady momentum of the seasons and life itself, the poet seems to find brightnesses all the time: In “After the Thunderstorm,” there are “mosquitoes so thick / I am breathing them in, a plague / for which I give thanks // in this post-diluvian world / ablaze in light.”

If you detect the hum of a religious sensibility in these lines, you’re on the right track. Allusions explicit and implicit to Dante, St. Francis, the Bible and the redemptive properties of art and poetry crop up throughout, in keeping with Robbins’ background as a chaplain and pastor. “What matters is that the blood flow, / that another poet frees a fish,” we hear in “Mary Oliver Forgets,” a poem about the lifelong commitments of poetry — which for Stanley Kunitz involved “eternal life.”

In these poems are strong doses of faith and doubt, resentment and love, but maybe, above all, the substance of things hoped for.

Judith Robbins lives in Whitefield. “The Bookbinder’s Wife” is available from online book sellers and directly from North Country Press.

Nick Stone’s collection “Fragments” similarly walks us through moments and observations accumulated over a long life, especially attachments to the sea and to family. Stone, of Georgetown, spent much of his life practicing law in Massachusetts, summering on the Maine coast, and apparently maintaining a literary sensibility the whole time, culminating in this collection of poems.

The first section, “The Sea,” contains some of the book’s most skillfully realized poems. “Dawn Watch,” recounting, apparently, a moment from his time as a Coast Guardsman, provides sharp evocations of the feel of the sea:


against the roll and pitch

my sextant

wiped of salty spray

I search the sky for

breaks in clouds

locate three stars

and pin us

on my empty ocean chart

The second section, “Love and Family,” offers character sketches and spots of time involving family, including a love poem or two, and the brief third section, “A Call to Pens,” consists of four poems on sociopolitical topics (“Poets you are needed once again / remind us what our nation endures,” opens “A Call to Pens / Inauguration Day 2017”). The book’s closing section, “The Dream of Life,” comprises an unusually pure atmosphere of meaningful reminiscence, apprehension and appreciation. “Orange” in 11 succinct lines takes us through the entire life of a military pilot, and “Northeast Ledge” gives personal shape to the sinking of the Andrea Doria, which Stone witnessed as a Coast Guard officer on duty at the time, the biographical note tells us.

Explicit references to Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Rumi and other poets indicate Stone’s familiarity with modern and other literary traditions, and the sense that everything described here has been poetically felt, so to speak, for a long time is strong in this little book.

“Fragments” is available from Indie Author Books and online book sellers.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first Thursday of each month. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.