Nicholas Christopher,
Crossing the Equator:
New & Selected Poems 1972-2004

(Harcourt, 2004)

Nicholas Christopher's 32-year collection of poetry, Crossing the Equator, showcases the work of a major poet.

The selections in the book reflect the times in which the poet has tasted life in all its rich strangeness. Reading the book is like stepping into a phantasmagoria. Fresh, vivid images surprise and sometimes astonish: "The moon ... for an instant reflected whole in the spectacles of a blind man sitting alone in a parked car."

Christopher's eye for detail creates a synergy as he maps the geography of the human heart, its desires and aspirations amid a tumult of images, some dark, some pleasant, some mundane. Reading the poems is like discovering a new landscape peopled with fantastic characters that are perhaps reflections of the poet's inner self. Some of the poems have a dreamlike quality, such as this:

At dusk rain slants in from the north
black needles clotting
the locomotive's cyclops beam
the prison searchlight
the street lamp's cone
beneath which vagrants line their boots
with road maps before closing their eyes
and entering a maze of blind alleys
searching for the one doorway among thousands
that will lead away from their nightmares
and the one in a million
(where the rain dissolves into light)
that opens onto paradise.

Christopher works with the enigma that is life as the raw material for his poetry. The poems journey from cities, to tropical coasts; from rooms stacked with books to "a church filled with fiery flowers" to a mountain top between France and Spain ... a phantasmagoria. The poet juxtaposes exquisite moments with the sure knowledge of death. Death runs through Crossing the Equator like a dark seam of coal in Earth's strata and the detritus of life.

by Barbara Spring
22 October 2005

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