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The Untested Hand cover


Cover painting copyright © Brian Frink


The Untested Hand

Poems by Richard Robbins
The Backwaters Press, 2008

Paperback: 72 pages, $16.00
ISBN-10: 0-9793934-7-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-9793934-7-1

Rooted in the Midwest and West, Richard Robbins' poems bring fresh light and energy to the theme of nature as teacher, nurturer, and—too often—casualty of humankind. They do so not only because of his eye for authenticating detail and his ear for musical phrasing but because of his nose for mendacity and foolishness. One could remark on the technical integrity of these poems, their imaginative richness, their muscle, and, yes, their wisdom. Yet ultimately, they bring to mind what Howard Nemerov said of the works of M. C. Escher: that one is charmed by them, “though that word ‘charmed,’ if it is to stand, must be allowed its older and magical senses:  bemused, enthralled, hypnotized, or bewitched.”

            —William Trowbridge, author of Enter Dark Stranger and Flickers


Richard Robbins’ The Untested Hand is the kind of book in which birds at a window feeder are seen as “changing all the indoor lives to sky.” That is to say, this collection of poems investigates, celebrates, and practices transformation, particularly that of the quotidian into the marvelous, as if any day were the first. In “The Answering Machine,” for example, the eponymous device, which a lesser poet would treat with smug jokiness, here serves to carry an astonishing weight of pathos, a poetic achievement compounded by expressiveness simultaneously naked and eloquent. In fact, the language throughout the book is consistently arresting, never glib; Robbins seems incapable of a vulgar gesture. When he says of a cliff wall painted by aboriginals, “the paint made our blood move again,” he could be speaking of the effects of his own poems. Indeed, his work, which ranges widely through time and space, resonates with heroic landscapes and those who have peopled them:  the American West figures here as both literal place and myth. Such scale tests a writer, and Robbins matches it with a compelling voice at times seemingly less personal than prophetic, that of one who holds together Blakean contraries—those “indoor lives” both disappearing and expanding—by the sheer strength of his vision, which includes the apocalyptic. As a serious poet, Robbins also tests his readers, challenging them to learn, through his poems, a “way of walking, / flying, and drowning all at once.” The rewards awaiting readers who accept the poet’s challenge are pleasure and exhilaration, and a view unsparingly clear-eyed.

            —Philip Dacey, author of The New York Postcard Sonnets:  A Midwesterner Moves to Manhattan and The Mystery of Max Schmitt:  Poems on the Life and Work of Thomas Eakins

Available locally at the Barnes & Noble Campus Bookstore, Maverick Bookstore, and other locations, or from internet booksellers, such as Powell's Books and

If you'd like to see a sampling of poems from this or other books, or hear selected poems read aloud, go here.

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