Figured Dark: Poems

By Greg Rappleye

18 ratings - 4.06* vote

Greg Rappleye’s Figured Dark is a collection of contemporary lyric and narrative poems, set in an American landscape, which takes as its implicit theme the journey of the soul from darkness into light.The voices in the collection call across a vast landscape of myth, memory, and horrific wreckage. In the title poem, speaking of the phenomenon of fireflies rising at night f Greg Rappleye’s Figured Dark is a collection of contemporary lyric and narrative poems, set in an American landscape,

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Book details

Paperback, 70 pages
November 1st 2007 by University of Arkansas Press

(first published August 2007)

Original Title
Figured Dark: Poems (The Arkansas Poetry Series)
1557288526 (ISBN13: 9781557288523)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Has promise, although frequently wordy. The dust jacket praises his inclusion of every day objects into his work--I suppose because of a belief that it grounds the work in something we can relate to. Very quickly, however, it feels like he's just slapping in as many references to trees and bushes and animals and objects in a house because someone will say it makes the poems more 'everyday'. His most effective poems are the shorter ones and the ones that focus more on ideas and emotions rather than rattling off items as though this is a thin volume of 'I spy'.


In Greg Rappleye’s third book of poetry, Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007) he takes his reader into quaint moments of epiphany and observation as if he were conducting an documentary of the heart. What is the reader to do with the poem “Rainy Day at the Gotham Book Mart?” a poem which illustrates Rappleye’s movements in and out of instantaneous poetic surveillance.

I pay for the books…
…then step through the jangle- bell door
Into the rain on West Forty-seventh—The rain
that slants from the crowded light, The rain
of pour and pouring down,--a storm
that Bishop told us Will roar all night.

Rappleye is a master of the metaphor: the gloom and cold of winter in “After the Diagnosis,” a vasectomy is “marshalling the tragic rhythms/ of Norse poetic mythology/ never again my longship setting sail...” And glaucoma vision resembles a sort of glass seen through darkly in terms of recreating his heart through verse:

And so this final test:
my chin at rest, tiny meteors of light
whir through a twilight field
around my face. My task—
to tap a bar as the lights appear,
creating the data from which
my vision will be traced.
lights come at me, faster,
slowing. A picture builds within the machine.
of what has been lost
and what can be saved.
And this is where I begin the poem,
undone, starts blowing by ad the wings of birds
fluttering at the margins.
O, this round earth, O,
the world’s imagined corners.

Rappleye’s poems are crafted with the sort of elegance that makes writing poetry look easy; an illusion. These poems are well researched and layered, whittled and shaped:

I come to the great field, fireflies
rising from the black grass. I say to no one:
The sway of her breasts as she crossed the room,
as if to decipher a small archeology—
the glass beads, a needle carved out of bone.
I know that Whistler sold his easel
to cover his debts.
And Chet Baker—I saw the film—
did he jump or was he thrown
from that open window?
Even he was puzzled as he fell.
I am alone in the great field,
accounting for loss under the many,
many stars. I am amazed by fireflies.
I could round this down to a million tiny bodies,
blazing the midnight trees.

Figured Dark is poetry of perception and observation: the view from the retrospect that culminates into the instinctual moments, weaving in and out of the lucidly rational and the often unarticulated and involuntary aspects of life. Rappleye articulates this scenery of his watch.


I loved reading this book, loved teaching this book, loved hearing Greg Rappleye read from this book.