Critical Commentary:

On Scattered Risks:

“Uschuk's poems make me want to go into the wilderness, there is so much fresh air in them. Salmon, hummingbirds, ospreys, white deer, robins, elk, beetles, and wolves rarely have had a better human friend than Pam Uschuk. And since she's also a poet, they let themselves be seen in a beautiful light. These poems are inhabited by nature and driven by a generous and passionate heart.”

(On Scattered Risks, Andrei Codrescu)

“Pam Uschuk is a master of nature's ceremonies, a brave voice of conscience, and an intrepid tour guide of the heart's deep caverns. Scattered Risks seethes with wildness and beauty. A moving portrait of an elephant ends, "When will she learn her place?" In this necessary book, Pam Uschuk teaches us ours.”

(Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Tender Hooks)

On One-Legged Dancer

Review by Jim Heynen in Rain Taxi, Fall, 2003)

“Readers who know the "sensual garden" of Pamela Uschuk's earlier poems will delight in both the familiar and unfamiliar in this new collection. One-Legged Dancer delivers the same homegrown sensuality, but in this collection the personal quest holds thematic dominance. The journey is through Mexico, with its scars and wounds of unrest and war; in a land where violence always lurks ("the same bullet firing all over the world"), the narrator pauses to observe, lament, and pay homage to the scenery and people. From the drama of a train crash to the tender hands of a street artist, the poems suggest that without pain, celebrations would have less meaning.

Many of the poems can be read as poems of witness, exposing the oppressors and showing reverence for the survivors. Ushuk can narrate grizzly happenings, but her eye is as compassionate as it is exact. Place poems will never be the same; her sensibility not only honors the natural world, but ignites it. And in the title poem she writes what might be seen as the touchstone passage to the entire collection:

But it is the one-legged danceer
hopping and leaning on his crutch
wrapped with electric blue tape
I would follow
             through this world.

This is a book that deserves cover-to-cover reading: the poems lean together so well, truy the work of a unified sensibility.”


“ One-Legged Dancer is a book that deserves cover-to-cover reading: the poems lean together so well, truly a book of a unified sensibility. I loved it, felt myself taken in more and more as I progressed. They are poems of rich awareness, rooted in the body, generous in their embrace of the world, neither denying the self in that world but always ready to love the NOT-ME. Even with the many first-person accountings, not once did I feel a verging toward solopsism. Instead, I always felt an honest engagement, one of accepting oneself in the environment rather than celebrating oneself at the world's expense. When I look back for poems that were special highlights for me, I find myself rereading ones like "Adobadora," which are so much of the body, so particular of felt experience, that my male sensibility joins you in your human experience. It's a wonderful book, just wonderful.”

(Jim Heynen, St. Olaf's College, Minnesota)

On Finding Peaches in the Desert:

 “These poems make a sensual garden. The gifts of the earth can be found here: from peaches to lizards to rich earth that soaks up the spilled blood of history. There is the promise of rain and the sky filled with spirits of those we become. There is singing in this garden, and though it might be the end of the world, a new world is coming into view, just over the horizon of these poems.”

(Joy Harjo)

“These poems are breathtaking, a triumph of language and spirit. . . . This book is a call to contemplation and action, celebration and a righteous anger that can transform the world we inhabit.”

(Demetria Martínez)

“There is a position in yoga called "the shining heart." This is how Pamela Uschuk has approached her poems. Each poem is struck with the shine of sensuality and mystery. Whether she writes of the sexy quiet of marriage, the daunting thirst of the desert, the secret miracles of a woman's body, or the lacerating political rage that bursts out of many of these pages, Pam Uschuk maintains the light that burns in her chest. All the landscapes here--from the desert's rumpled floor to the poet's own bed to the torture chambers of Chile--are alive and vivid with this light. The book is long over-due.”

(Luis Urrea)

* * * *

(Review by Gregory McNamee, Parabola, Summer, 2001)

“Deserts can be forbidding, even terrifying places, where the land and its inhabitants, human and otherwise, lie exposed to the harshest of elements. They can also be places of extraordinary beauty, places in which that very exposure yields a kind of spiritual cleanliness; not for nothing were so many of the world's great religions born in those dry, brown places.

Pamela Uschuk, a poet who lives in southern Arizona, finds both terror and wonder in the arid lands in which the poems of Finding Peaches in t he Desert are set. On one page, Uschuk is "struck dumb by sun cauterizing / the Sonoran sky that flings its blue skirt / all the way across the ripe hip of Mexico"; on another, she finds herself in the rare landscape of an oasis, "a gorgeous luminaria of river shade"; on still another, she finds a center of grace in a pair of Harris's hawks "ripping red chunks of pigeon / from thin bones," exemplifying the world's often violent way of conducting its business.

Uschuk's poems are populated by desert creatures – by hawks and tarantula hawks (wasplike insects that prey on ground-dwelling beetles and arachnids, hence their name), by lizards and javelinas, by luna moths, snakes, praying mantises, and kingbirds. They make their appearance not as easy symbols, in the way of so much poetry in which animals figure, but as actors on a brightly lighted stage, unself-consciously doing what they are supposed to do. Uschuk respectfully observes their ancient ways, even as ants take up residence in her cupboards and mockingbirds trouble her waking dreams with their raucous cries.

Her poems are also full of the human presence, as loved ones – her husband and stepdaughter, relatives living and dead, a host of observant friends – share "the desert's vast horizon" with her, wandering through dry creek beds and over jagged mountains, waiting for rain, reveling in the desert's silence, sharing pain and passion, doing what humans are supposed to do.

Deserts being places of reverie and awe, it is altogether appropriate that another class of characters find a home in Uschuk's collection: namely, an assortment of gods and goddesses. Some of these are the emotions personified, as with Uschuk's invention of Goddess Weepy Eye, the patron saint of conflict-born insomnia. Some are deities of nature such as the moon, for whom, in a striking turn, Uschuk professes love "as I love the tarantula / tippling from its half-eaten prey." Still others come from the classical pantheon, so that Ariadne and Athena, Cupid and the unfortunate Bull of Minos are transported into the heat-dazzled landscape of Arizona, there to converse with the ghosts of Emiliano Zapata, Billy the Kid, and Cochise.

That landscape lends itself nicely to myth-making, and Uschuk spins a few myths of her own in ways that seem altogether in character for all concerned. She is a skilled traveler in dry lands, a knowing observer of animal and human ways, gifted with a sure eye and the master of an idiom charged with meaning and feeling. Slender but far from meager, Finding Peaches in the Desert is a sturdy and striking collection that merits a wide audience.”