Poetry for a world that’s falling apart

Jeremiah Webster charts a via negativa in verse.

“The world falls apart.” So, in an echo of W. B. Yeats, says the refrain of the first poem in Jeremiah Webster’s ambitious and much affecting debut poetry collection. Webster teaches English at Northwest University in Wash­ington State and has published anthologies of T. S. Eliot’s and Yeats’s poems.

His collection opens with “Credo,” a poem designated as prelude to the book. Over the course of 20 lines, the phrase “the world falls apart” appears eight times. This, the poem seems to insist, is the main thing to be said about the world in our time and place; it is the principal reality behind our lives and our deaths, behind the work we do. “I build my home,” the poem declares, “as the world falls apart.”

It’s this reality that serves as backdrop for most of the poems to follow. There is, for example, the human degradation of the environment and the willfulness with which we carry it out. “Ecclesiastes” alludes to the helplessness of barndoor skates, pelicans, and sharks in the face of predatory human greed and seems (in its final stanza) to affirm that this is nothing new under the sun: