The Light in them is Permanent


Sundance Bookstore
Black Rock Press


“There is a natural ecstatic in Steven Nightingale, whom one might situate on a scale between Emerson and Rumi. And there is also a craftsman–with a jeweler’s or a watchmaker’s meticulousness–who wants to make the sonnet mirror his wonder at the architecture of things. They are both very present in this, his third sonnet sequence and they make a labor of praise and a praise out of labor.”
—Robert Hass,
Former US Poet Laureate

“Here in these 99 sonnets, we are invited into a poet’s imagination as it is fulfilled through a singular form. In case we’ve forgotten the examples of Shakespeare and Petrarch, we are here reminded that form, even one form, can allow a supple intelligence to display its full range and power even as it invokes the body in all its wonders and joys. Here, we find joined the force of ear and mind, both bent entirely upon delight.”
—Katherine Coles
Poet Laureate of Utah


Let us take an ordinary day, an ordinary moment—say, your little daughter opens a door and walks into the room where you are working. With her comes the afternoon light, and warm air with the fragrance of oak and sage. She stands before you in grass-stained jeans. Blue flower petals cling to her shirt. She shows the uncanny grace and blessed energy natural to any child. You rise, and go to her; down on your knees you gather her into your arms, in wonder at her fierce, soft beauty.
Any parent anywhere in the world may have just such an encounter. Within it there is strange, open, wild country: the country between a moment of life, and what it means. It is just one moment, yet its meaning makes a light we can live by.

To venture into that wild country, in hopes of understanding, we need help. Poetry is here to help. It is our helpmate, our provision, our surety; it gives us the forms in which we may hold meaning, all in the name of what we love, in devotion to those we love. It’s our chance to gather, concentrate, and clarify experience, so as to give it away into other hands, in hopes that it may be accepted, that it may be of service.
For me, the form is the sonnet. For over twenty-five years, it has been my guide into the wilderness of daily life. I have returned from my adventures safely, so far, not because of any virtues of my own, but because in my traveling through the magical, hazardous lands where I live—where we live—the sonnet has been so trustworthy a companion.

Whatever our suffering, most of us know that here on earth we will come round to days and nights of irresistible beauty. We will have our chance to give thanks, to learn, to love the little girl coming into the room; to praise and cherish our mate, to offer all we have to our friends. And we will have the sacred chance to love strangers.

You, reader, are a stranger to me. These sonnets are written for you, and though I may be a wandering, worn, idiosyncratic man, I pray you might be willing to take this book in hand.

It is the simplest fact of this labor: I write with all I have and hope, and I write for you. You are present to me, always. I think of you, your powers and generosity, your hardships, your searching, your openheartedness. Only in your hands, does a book count for anything. Only by your understanding, does beauty come fully alive. Only by your good will and good work, will history be answered and darkness undone.

Big Sur, April 2009