Reviewed by Michele Sharpe, Foreword Clarion
April 14, 2022
Outskirts Press (April 30, 2020)
Hardcover $28.95 (166 p.p.)
Clarion Rating: 4 out 5
The musing poems in Reflections on
Mountaineering chart a course
through a personal, enigmatic
relationship with mountain
Alan V. Goldman’s poetry collection Reflections on Mountaineering explores the
challenge and euphoria of climbing in extreme alpine weather, and on vertical rock faces and icy expanses.
Most of the poems are addressed to an individual mountain, resulting in a recurring I and thou relationship, making them reminiscent of verses addressed to a deity. Several, including “A Complicated Relationship Bathed in Wonder,” begin with the phrase “Mountain, mountain,” and go on to ask existential questions, or to pronounce spiritual claims about the poet’s ability to provide “human meaning”:
Surely my quest to attain your summit
Must have revealed my flawed
Attempt to use you as a test of my limit
Where descriptions of the physical actions of climbing, and the state of flow that athletes and others fall into when under an imperative to be in the moment, arise, they are evocative. This is true in “The Power of Now,” which observes that “nothing else counts or occurs except the next step taken now.”
Elsewhere, figurative language is applied to landscapes themselves, helping to translate the mountaineer’s experience for novice audiences. A possible avalanche site becomes visible as “a shadowy dimple in the snow”; in “Ice Climbing in Box Canyon,” the poet is “Fixed into a hollow ice screw lodged deep into the bluest ice, which secures me for now / Unless the whole shelf shears off and cracks up, like smashed dinner plates.”
But in form, these free verse entries often read like prose, if prose that has been broken into poetic lines. Even then, their line breaks have a random sensibility, sans enjambment or other resonant techniques. When musicality arises, it occurs because of short lines and predictable patterns, as in “Early Winter Winds”:
Vertiginous virgin standing tall;
How do I deal with you, if at all?
Roaring, raging, whipping winds,
Do you cloak yourself where intruders fall?
Throughout, the book uses language of romance and eroticism to address individual
mountains as beloved forms, or as disapproving or inaccessible lovers. Romantic phrases like “locked in your embrace” alternate with explicit erotic imagery:
Thrusting upward like a potent spire,
The gleaming rock-wall lured us to its tower,
Beckoning us with the meretricious allure of its raw power,
Gleaming white in wind-scoured sandstone
Emerging upright from a mantle of some perpetually snow-clad throne.
Would this vertical formation yield to our collective groan
And allow us to enter onto its forbidden zone?
Unified and musing, the poems in Reflections on Mountaineering chart a course through a personal, enigmatic relationship with mountain landscapes and the magnificent forces of nature.
Book review by Mari Carlson, US Review of Books
Reflections on Mountaineering: A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains by Alan V. Goldman
"For to climb upon a mountains’s flanks is but an active form of meditation that earns us nothing to our material gain, Yet adds immeasurably to the memories in our brains" In his poetry, a retired lawyer reflects on his years of mountaineering. The poems muse on climbing's dangers, its literal and figurative attractions, and the existential questions it poses. Cerebral in tone, the pieces quote literature (sometimes in French) and rhetorical terms.With titles such as "Idealized Perfection," "The Power of Now," and "On Being and Intent," the poems' content also reflects a heady fixation with man's purpose.
They inquire whether enduring the ordeals of climbing, like avalanches and extreme wind and cold, are exercises in futility or lead to enlightenment. Featuring both failures (times Goldman turned back from challenges) and successes (like climbing alongside professionals), the opportunity to ask such questions takes precedence over any single answer.The poems' focus on life-or-death situations and profound thought makes for a harrowing as well as probing read. The author's headspace while climbing is emphasized over outward landscapes. However, awe-inspiring and threatening conditions at specific locations—Twining Peak, Kilimanjaro, and Mt. Bierstadt, among others—are described.
This expanded edition of the book includes more recent and more intimate poems dealing with despair and old age. They round out the grandiosity of climbing in their earthy and universal concerns. Although many of the selections are dense and free form, some rhyme and exhibit a childlike wonder.
Some of these shorter poems begin like something penned by Robert Blake, such as "Mountain, Mountain," addressing the mountain as a dialogue partner or a deity to whom Goldman prays. These tender poems speak most directly and are the most accessible in the collection. The whole work edifies in its celebration of a timeless meeting between nature's awesome power and brave souls willing to face their limits.
Book review by Donna Ford, The US Review of Books
Reflections on Mountaineering: A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains by Alan V. Goldman
"I revel in that special...uncertainty of the outcome,
Regardless of skill, that is experienced during the bond of indulging
Ourselves in...Dangerous sheer joy of climbing,"
This book of poems and musings delivers whiffs of the rarefied atmosphere that mountain climbers breathe. Hardy souls, like the author, thrive whether they ascend to the summit or wisely descend in safety. The lives of mountaineers depend on their roped partners, toe holds, and pegs pounded into rock walls as they climb beside ridges with mountain goat views. Avalanches, glacier crevasses, and frostbite are hazards of snow country. Miles of loose scree and less dense air challenge the last miles. This book describes climbing a volcano and crossing the Continental Divide. Ultimate views from a summit have made it worthwhile for both the author and famous climbers, such as Muir, Mallory, and Alexander. At the Vale of Kashmir, the latter wept [as they say] that there were "no more worlds to conquer."
With life often lived close to the line, Goldman acknowledges that mountaineers accept the vagaries of time mentioned in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He describes the climber's call as fulfilling the work of creation by traveling where nature left "a blank on the map" and then finding meaning in this hidden corner. As a talented practicing lawyer, now retired, Goldman skillfully stages his arguments, analyses the mountain's likely replies, and anticipates emotional responses that will assault his readers along the dangerous climb to the top.
Of his seventy-three offerings in this revised version, some poems rhyme, and others are written in rhythmic blank verse. Goldman's analytical mind tends to wrap the last stanza/sentence into a dramatic summation. For example, he ends one poem, despite the failings expressed within it, with the poignant line, "We have not lost our way on the trip to the top."
RECOMMENDED by the US Review
I’ve really enjoyed the journey these poems took me on to new heights without setting foot out of my apartment. I might as well have been on the Matterhorn. The experiences of beinI’ve really enjoyed the journey these poems took me on to new heights without setting foot out of my apartment. I might as well have been on the Matterhorn. The experiences of being one with nature were quite vivid. The pieces pack powerful images and I was glad I was along for the ride.g one with nature were quite vivid. The pieces pack powerful images and I was glad I was along for the ride.
Book Review by Theresa Kadair, Portland Book Review
Reflections on Mountaineering: A Second Revised and Expanded Edition: A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains By Alan Goldman Outskirts Press, $9.41, 166 pages, Format: eBook Star Rating:
4 / 5
Alan Goldman’s Reflections on Mountaineering: A Second Revised and Expanded Edition: A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains both inspires and enlightens its readers on the adversities and thrills of mountain climbing. This collection of poems perfectly encapsulates Goldman’s obvious deep awe and reverence of the mountains, describing them as, “stolid, indifferent, uncaring” and “unfeeling”, but still very worthy of notice and exploration. Throughout the collection, Goldman frequently wonders at what the mountain has seen and experienced through its timeless formation, as well as its power to both destroy and inspire whoever dares to climb it.
The poems begin at the start of his journey, where he reflects on the allure, but danger of the task in front of him. As the collection continues, each section engages the reader to a different stage of the perilous climb. Through this format, one truly feels present with Goldman, as he climbs both the physical and emotional mountains in front of him. He faces the concrete dangers of impending avalanches, faulty pendulums, hazardous grounds, and the confrontation of fear that comes with these situations.
As Goldman challenges his own tenacity, one is almost on the mountain with him, hearing his thoughts, and seeing his actions. He touches on topics such as “flow”, similarly known as the state of mind that comes with focused work, as well as ponders the human condition. With a major focus of mental anguish and turmoil in making the trek, I was moved with empathy for Goldman as I truly felt I was experiencing his trials with him through these pages.
A particularly touching part of this collection was when Goldman found the “enemy” – his inner self. Upon this revelation, the narrative given perfectly emulates the overcoming of self for a greater purpose. As he makes it to the next part of the climb, he quotes Mallory saying, “I conquered only what was in myself, no less, no more”, reinforcing his discovery that the true “mountain” to climb is within the mind. Similarly, I was moved by both his insight and vulnerability as he expressed spiritual vacillation in his journey.
As he gazes upon the grandeur of the mountain, he questions, “if the force that created you also created me: Were we made for each other Though fashioned out of such different clay?”. The moral questions and dilemmas Goldman grapples with within his journey are applicable to both climbers and non-climbers alike, making this collection a worthwhile read to all.
OUR STAR RATING SYSTEM 1 star: Reviewer wouldn’t recommend this book at all. 2 stars: Reviewer wouldn’t read it again. Needs work. 3 stars: Reviewer enjoyed the book. 4 stars: Reviewer liked and would recommend the book to friends/family. 5 stars: Reviewer considers the book to be something that everyone should read. Reviewer would definitely read it again.
Book review by Anthony Avina, Pacific Book Review
Something which not everyone has been fortunate enough to learn for themselves is that while scholastic achievements and learning at a college level can be great for some people, there are many lessons which can be learned from nature and the world itself; lessons not even textbooks and highly educated teachers can teach. As John Lubbock once said, “Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.” In author and poet Alan V. Goldman’s Reflections on Mountaineering: A Second Revised and Expanded Edition: A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains,
The author explores the adventure and the true nature of mountaineering and exploration in the mountains through narrative poetry. Hoping to convey a sense of history and respect for the environment, as well as a healthy comparison between regular life and the life of a mountaineer, the author uses a blend of rhyming and blank verse poetry to bring the mountaineer life to readers everywhere.
A truly thoughtful and beautifully written collection of poetry which captures both the author’s vivid imagery and the beauty of nature all at once, the narrative aspect of the poems really bring readers into the mountaineer experience. From the face-value approach of the poetry that showcases the journey to and into the mountains which mountaineers often face, to the layered way the author equates this journey with life’s greatest venture, the author applies human meaning on nature’s blank canvas. The artistry and creativity these poems infuse into that very narrative makes this a memorable experience.
This is the perfect read for those who enjoy narrative poetry, especially poems which also infuse philosophy and belief into the story – and blend this with a very real-world look at nature and ecology as a whole where it pertains to mountains. As a fan of poetry, I was moved and engaged in this author’s narrative into such an often overlooked or missed aspect of nature, and as someone interested in the mystery and visuals of mountains, this was a truly one of a kind read. Artful, impactful and stunningly written, author Alan V. Goldman’s Reflections on Mountaineering is a must-read book of poetry. A perfect blend of imagery and engaging poetry, the author’s book does a remarkable job of capturing the reader’s attention and crafting a narrative that is thought-provoking and memorable.
Book Review by Alex Telander, San Francisco Book Review
Reflections on Mountaineering: A Second Revised and Expanded EDITION: A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains By Alan Goldman Outskirts Press, $9.41, 166 pages, Format: eBook Star Rating: 4.5 / 5
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that climbing a tall and treacherous mountain and making it all the way to the top works very well as a metaphor, concept, and entire paradigm that can be applied to things like performance in work or sports or just life, achieving goals, and wanting to push oneself. In Reflection on Mountaineering, author and mountaineer Alan Goldman takes it one step further using the beautiful language of poetry to tell stories, paint beautiful scenes with words, and inspire the reader in a number of ways.
Glancing upward I behold
A perfect realm of apex and stronghold —
But this world knows of no such perfect place
So you must claim some kindred space
Some of the poems rhyme, some do not, some are just passages of free verse. Or there’s this one, entitled “Pentimento,” that presents a mountain in a whole new way, as a challenge, both for the mountaineer and for the person wishing to achieve their goal.
How happy I am to be free of abstract worries;
Your mass focuses my attention onto palpable realities
Where the only thing that counts is the next step I take,
Because I’m bound up in your micro-reality of reactive causality.
Goldman does a truly wonderful job of presenting these eye-opening, awe-inspiring peaks and mountains in a completely new way with wonderful use of vocabulary, which also helps the reader to attack certain problems in life with a new and original approach.
What is a Mountain but an eruption of earth
Devoid of significance except what we impart to it
By our efforts to achieve feats of great wonder:
We invest in the mountain the lore of the climbers’ travails.
The mountaineer knows he is not the first to surmount this physical challenge and make it to the peak; these ways have been traveled before, and they have been surmounted. Providing a lesson that it is important to not just dive in blindly but to prepare oneself the best one can so as not to be surprised.
With the passages that are just wonderful descriptions of scenery, Goldman goes into detail with the topology and biological nature of what he is experiencing. “. . . Studded with ancient volcanic ejecta of igneous boulders, both huge and small, both smooth and irregular. The peculiar flora of the lower regions, like the giant groundsels and lobelias, are long gone . . .” With such descriptive language, the reader is seemingly transported to these unique places. And with this second edition, there are thirty-four new poems to be enjoyed by readers.
OUR STAR RATING SYSTEM 1 star: Reviewer wouldn’t recommend this book at all. 2 stars: Reviewer wouldn’t read it again. Needs work. 3 stars: Reviewer enjoyed the book. 4 stars: Reviewer liked and would recommend the book to friends/family. 5 stars: Reviewer considers the book to be something that everyone should read. Reviewer would definitely read it again
Reviewed by Maileen Hamto, Seattle Book Review
Reflections on Mountaineering: A Second Revised and Expanded EDITION: A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains
By Alan Goldman
Outskirts Press, $9.41, 166 pages, Format: eBook
Star Rating: 4 / 5
Alan Goldman reaches new heights with the second, revised, and expanded edition of Reflections on Mountaineering: A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains with new poems and old to deliver a powerful collection of verses to inspire the imagination of outdoor enthusiasts, climbers, adventurers, and seekers. Goldman, who complemented a successful law career with an equally impressive range of completed summits, has been climbing for more than thirty years. Readers are fortunate that poet Goldman is gifted with the physical prowess to plan and complete climbs as well the emotional and mental depth to write poems about the experience.
Goldman infuses a spiritual quality to his verses, although some may read like a straightforward account of a trip report. The collection represents meditations on the process of ascent, taking in the beauty, understanding the elements.
A number of poems are addressed to the mountain itself, as the poet engages in conversation with the peak, expressing respect and regard for the power and majesty of its eminence. One wonders which peaks pose a challenge, rendered sinister, while others inspire love.
Climbing, like any sport, comes with its own jargon. Goldman effortlessly weaves in the language of climbing: diretissima, couloir, scree, glissading. Technicalities notwithstanding, his writing reminds us that mountains make poets out of climbers, leaving them in awe and in complete and utter respect for the mountain gods, whom he invokes often. Speaking of gods, Goldman holds great deference for mountaineering legends and adventuresome figures, including British climber George Leigh Mallory, Italian mountaineer Reinhold Andreas Messner, Rudyard Kipling, and Alexander the Great.
The most enjoyable part of reading this anthology is the wisdom imparted about the life changing lessons of the climb. Beyond simply documenting the ascent, the poet contemplates the lessons learned and how the experience transforms one to develop keen instincts of self preservation and survival, in order to save oneself from disaster. It’s also an allegory to life and parallels of climbing lessons to professional pursuits.
“The mountain is passive, but inspires creative action,” Goldman writes, alluding to the creativity involved in finding routes, summiting, and planning for the descent, often requiring instantaneous calculations of risk and reward. In poems like “Aftermath of an Avalanche” and “Bailing Out on Twining Peak,” Goldman expresses the agony of coming to the decision of abandoning plans in order to survive. Another important lesson is accepting the reality of needing to turn around and live to climb another day.
This collection of poems summarizes a life well lived, as the poet meditates on how mountains create meaning out of nothingness. In the same vein, mountaineering inspires poetry, for what is poetry but the language of awe, mystery, and beauty. It’s the only sufficient medium for sharing the grandeur and expanse of breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Review by Joan Kirschner for IndieReader
REFLECTIONS ON MOUNTAINEERING is a unique dissertation in poetry by a devoted mountaineer who offers his philosophy on, and perceptions of, the immutability and majesty of Nature, comparing it to the relative vulnerability and temporal existence of Humanity.
Alan V. Goldman has been climbing mountains around the world for more than 30 years, and his observations and musings on humanity and the natural world are the basis of his book of poetry, REFLECTIONS ON MOUNTAINEERING (A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains). Goldman expresses himself through an extensive collection of poetry written in several formats – the traditional rhyme scheme of blank verse that readers know from the plays of Shakespeare, free verse, and short observations in prose.
He frequently alludes to the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is part of both the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible and includes various phrases in both Latin and French. His language runs from a very sophisticated command of vocabulary to on-trend contemporary word choices, plus a mix of terms pertaining to the equipment used by mountaineers, along with terms that are specific to the physical characteristics of the mountains he climbs. Goldman takes the reader on a lengthy journey of poems describing mountain climbing, survival of the elements, philosophy and psychology.
The sections are arranged in titled groups that convey each general topic: “Reality and Dreams”, “Flow”, “Awe and Wonder”, “Hazards of a Climb”, “Confronting Fear”, “The Lure of the Big Mountains”, “Special Conditions”, “Challenge on Fair Terms”, “Rope Partner”, “Role of Luck, Fate & Chance”, “The Quest”, “Last Things”, and “Private Thoughts”. The collection concludes with what he refers to as “Bonus Materials”. Before perusing the poems, it’s advisable to read the preceding section about the author: “Read About What’s At The Top and What Comes Before”, and his own “Introduction”, for a full understanding of his aim in sharing his experiences and reflections on them.
It is often said that the best books reflect an author’s experience, and people are often advised to write about what they know.
Goldman, with his multiple decades of mountaineering and ample time to reflect on what he has seen and accomplished, is the perfect example of those principles. His poems draw deeply on his experiences, and he shows the depth of his respect for the danger he has faced in his climbs. He makes it clear that he learned when to proceed and when to descend – he tells us quite unambiguously that Nature, as expressed in the majesty of the mountains, and in the changeability of meteorological conditions, always maintains the upper hand over the climber, and reminds us that many who failed to heed that simple truth met a tragic fate.
He also explains that luck plays a part in the mountaineer’s ascent and that avalanches and other phenomena are not predictable, and while using the best equipment and drawing upon experience are positives, the mountains are fickle – a blizzard may arrive unexpectedly and wreak havoc. He portrays his experiences with wayward weather in vivid detail. With this poetic format, interested readers – whether they have some background with climbing or are merely curious – will find Goldman’s combination of knowledge and his reflections on his experience to be both informative and moving. No reader will look at mountainous scenery or photography of mountain subjects in quite the same way after reading these poems. REFLECTIONS ON MOUNTAINEERING (A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains) is enjoyable and thought-provoking for both devotees of mountaineering and casual readers who admire and respect the beauty and power of Nature.
Reviews by Amazon Customers
5 Stars! This collection of poems strings together a series of thought-provoking vignettes. They address the relationship between humans and nature, and the mountains often symbolize what we seek to conquer or achieve. I enjoyed the clever language and the vivid imagery. Amazon Customer
This collection of poems strings together a series of thought-provoking vignettes. They address the relationship between humans and nature, and the mountains often symbolize what we seek to conquer or achieve. I enjoyed the clever language and the vivid imagery.