Tuesday, January 30, 2007

NEW! Poem by Craig Morgan Teicher

Craig Morgan Teicher


           . . . as if weather were a cure
for childhood.
          --Bin Ramke

As if time were a cure. As if all things
pass, this too shall pass were a cure
for time, the time it takes, time enough,

a little more time. As if waking
with a taste in your mouth
were a cure for childhood, a sweaty

sweaty dream, a monster, an
angel in the closet, under the bed
were a cure for a ghost. As if

a thing lost or forgotten, discarded,
fled, written down and revised, revisited
were a cure for dead dogs, dogs

put to sleep, put down, put out of mind,
put that way were a cure for the facts.

As if this were a cure for that.

As if what happened, events as told, as tell
about the teller were a cure for
what ails, what finally ends, what time

has taken its toll on. As if what can be
hoped for, what works, what heals
were a cure. As if a cure were needed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NEW! Review of William Logan

The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin by William Logan. Columbia University Press, $29.50.

Reviewed by Brian Henry

William Logan is a tragic figure. Born at the wrong time--in the so-called tin age of poetry--and doomed to write about it, he earns his living by teaching in an MFA program, thus contributing to the very machine whose products he loathes. His talents and tastes would seem better-suited to a PhD program, but cultural studies and literary theory have taken over, shunning the likes of Logan (or so he would argue). Stuck with the poetry of this time, Logan rages against it. And the saddest aspect of this situation is that Logan’s criticism garners more attention than his poetry. The ignored poet, then, must content himself with being the notorious critic.

Logan’s primary attributes as a poetry critic--invective and predictability--serve him well as a regular knee-capper for The New Criterion but seem less fitting for The Undiscovered Country, a collection of his “odds and ends of criticism.” Predictability can be a critic’s greatest flaw. Worse than faulty judgment, predictability often accompanies a closed mind, or at least a mind already made up. Logan has his pets--Gjertrud Schnackenberg, Donald Justice, Amy Clampitt--as well as his bêtes noires--Jorie Graham, Rita Dove, Adrienne Rich, and, more recently (and infamously, due to the poet’s public threat to thrash the critic), Franz Wright. For the most part, his reviews of such poets follow a pre-ordained path of praise or damnation. His writing on poets who receive mixed and varying reactions--Paul Muldoon, Anne Carson, Charles Wright--is more worthwhile, because Logan actually demonstrates how he has come to terms with their work. Too often, though, Logan remains content with the elevation of personal taste to a general standard, and Logan’s failures as a critic frequently stem from his scuttling of his hero Randall Jarrell’s admonition, “At your best you make people see what they might never have seen without you; but they must always forget you in what they see.”

Despite his claim to read too many new books of poetry, Logan seems oddly unaware of the state of contemporary American poetry. He admits that trade presses have largely given up on poetry, but one would be hard-pressed to glean this from this selection of reviews. Of the 66 books by contemporary poets under consideration, nearly half (32) have been published by Alfred A. Knopf (a division of Random House) and Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Another 22 are published by W.W. Norton, Ecco/HarperCollins, and Houghton Mifflin. Ohio University Press, the University of Arkansas Press, Wake Forest University Press, and Louisiana State University Press are the only university presses represented; BOA Editions, Overlook, Graywolf, Counterpoint, and Seven Stories are the only smaller independent presses. Considering that major publishers release a small fraction of the notable poetry books published every year, Logan’s near-exclusive focus on books issued by these publishers skews his critical perspective from the outset. It’s difficult to imagine a compilation of 66 books of contemporary poetry that can be as safe as Logan’s and that omits almost every important university press that publishes poetry (California, Wesleyan, Chicago, Georgia, Iowa, Pittsburgh, Illinois) as well as nearly every small independent press (Copper Canyon, New Directions, Talisman House, Burning Deck, Story Line, etc.). For many poets and critics, contemporary poetry would be unimaginable without the work published by these presses, and Logan’s inability, or unwillingness, to acknowledge them does not instill much confidence in his grasp of the present age, be it golden or tin. Logan’s inability to find worthwhile poetry seems due, in part, to his looking for it in the wrong places.

Logan’s introduction to The Undiscovered Country illuminates his weak grasp on the current situation of poetry. This jeremiad rails against the usual enemies--cultural studies, identity politics, the confessional impulse--without engaging any of these issues. The introduction seems outdated (Logan’s diatribe against talk show poetry, for example, would have been accurate and necessary a decade ago but seems largely pointless now, not least because Charles Bernstein made similar charges--in 1980 [in “Thought’s Measure”]--and many other critics have attacked the confessional, and post-confessional, modes), as well as petty; he uses the piece to get in the last word against theory-headed colleagues and others who have disagreed with him. (He also demonstrates, throughout the book, a general disdain for his students, whose ignorance of everything from ancient Greece to scansion to Walt Whitman’s era seems to feed his apoplectic outlook.) This is unfortunate because the book’s introduction is the only thing, other than Logan’s sensibility, that might hold this miscellany together; as such, the introduction’s half-hearted attempt to make an overarching argument works against the book, especially since the crux of that argument--contemporary poetry is mostly terrible--is undermined by Logan’s blinkered view.

For a poet-critic, Logan’s breadth--or generosity--of taste is dispiriting in its narrowness. He makes virtually no discoveries, champions only the already belaureled. The most experimental poets he writes about--John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, and Anne Carson--are now safely mainstream. Only Carson maintains anything resembling a cutting-edge position, but even Harold Bloom is wild about her work. Logan seems to read every contemporary American poet through the lens of Robert Lowell, Geoffrey Hill, or W.H. Auden. Though Logan likes to present himself as a contrarian, his major poets are hardly unsung. Logan also seems unaware of emerging or younger poets. One of the three younger poets reviewed in this book, Joe Bolton, committed suicide in his twenties and is a former student of Logan’s. (Bolton also happens to be one of the most interesting poets Logan discusses.) Nearly all of the youngest poets discussed in The Undiscovered Country--Carl Phillips (b. 1959), Li-Young Lee (b. 1957), Henri Cole (b. 1956), Mary Jo Salter (b. 1954), Franz Wright (b. 1953), Mark Doty (b. 1953), Elizabeth Spires (b. 1952)--were born in the same decade as Logan. Deborah Garrison (b. 1965) and Kevin Young (b. 1970), along with Bolton, are the only exceptions. Few critics of Logan’s standing have discovered so little.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Logan’s strongest essays and reviews concern non-contemporary poets: Shakespeare, Milton, Whitman, Housman, Marianne Moore, Auden. In these pieces, Logan generally allows his erudition to trump outrage, even as one suspects his re-readings of these poets somehow fuel his splenetic treatments of contemporary poetry. They are more historically based, but also more informative and less judgmental. Logan seems better equipped to unpack poems than to assess them; he is a good reader but a bad judge. Still, he does not hesitate to criticize these canonical figures, as when he writes that Moore’s “animals, those refugees from medieval bestiaries and emblem books, once offered her access to an ethical world; later they seemed merely the point, or beside the point.” Of the three pieces on Shakespeare (reviews of Auden’s Lectures on Shakespeare, Berryman’s Shakespeare, and the third Arden edition of the sonnets and Vendler’s The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets), the Arden/Vendler review is the most substantial. Yet one must wonder about Logan’s compulsion toward creating (and maintaining) hierarchies when he specifies how many Shakespeare sonnets “have changed English literature” and how many he would “sell [his] soul for.” The dual focus of that compulsion--on a verifiable canon and on the critic’s own soul--seems rather charming, as does Logan’s willingness to make broad claims about Shakespeare’s fitness for sonnet writing: “Shakespeare’s rhetoric was not well adapted to the sonnet. His signature violence of language . . . rarely survives the sonnets’ casuistic wrangle of heartbreak and passion.” Logan does a fine job of excoriating the trendy idiocies of the Arden editor, Katherine Duncan-Jones, while offering measured praise for Helen Vendler’s study (partly because she is “at odds with current criticism, that tar pit of vengeance and half-baked philosophy,” partly because her criticism, at its best, “sustains itself with self-renewing insight”).

Logan’s clear-headed essay on Sylvia Plath cuts through the haze of myth that has surrounded her work. Though “Plath is as close as we have come to a serious poet formed in the supermarket, with supermarket values,” she “wrote like someone who did not have to worry about consequences.” His review of Lowell’s Collected Poems seems less successful; it skims the surface of each of Lowell’s books, offering mini-reviews with little or no new insights into the work. (His take on the Notebook/History/For Lizzie and Harriet/The Dolphin saga is an exception: “What was intimate [in Notebook] has been rendered remote, supervised, parched.”) Considering how frequently Logan cites Lowell when bemoaning the lack of talent and ambition in contemporary poets, he seems eager to replace Vendler as Lowell’s “primary idolator” (Jed Rasula’s phrase). His statement that Lowell “wrote no major poems after For the Union Dead,” then, seems refreshing in its reluctance to lionize, even if one questions the “major poems” designation.

As a prose writer, Logan has his own tics, most notably the double adjective, which sometimes exhibits an alliterative flourish--“dry, delicate talent” (Marie Ponsot), “dry, devious authority” (Mark Strand), “headlong, hell-bent hubris” (Sharon Olds)--but usually stems from an excess of his own hubris, from a need to outdo the poets being reviewed. Why else would a critic refer to Mark Doty’s “easy, gaudy style,” Anne Carson’s “jaunty, intemperate lines,” Eavan Boland’s “steamy, observant lines,” Cynthia Zarin’s “delicate, whimsical poems,” and Les Murray’s “sloppy, booming ways”? Why would he allow himself such lame redundancies as “sketchy, hither-thither manner” (Charles Wright), “clean, well-mannered lines” (Li-Young Lee), “self-medaled, self-beribboned witness” (Adrienne Rich), “cryptic, sphinxlike poet” (Geoffrey Hill), “modest, untemperamental character” (Elizabeth Spires), “static, lifeless observation” (Frieda Hughes), “tidy, delicate images” (Gjertrud Schnackenberg), “glittery, jewel-like style” (James Merrill)?

Agha Shahid Ali, being a Kashmiri-American, gets twice as many adjectives--“fabulous, delicate (even finicky), alien”--and later, Logan refers to him as “a charming, capable, even whimsical poet.” Perhaps because of her three-pronged name, Mary Jo Salter receives a trinity of adjectives from Logan for her “mousy, tense, off-kilter poems.” The double adjective appears two more times in the same paragraph: “honest, dutiful poems” and “fastidious, well-made poems.” In the space of three sentences, Logan has laid seven adjectives on Salter’s poems while saying very little about the work itself. He also compares her poems to those “a housewife would write, if there were such a thing as a housewife any more.” As if that nugget weren’t offensive enough, Logan later mentions her “hostlesslike sincerity” and “prom-dress exterior,” and toward the end of the review, her “well-mannered, well-manicured poems.” (Determined to win the award for The Most Tasteless Comment in a Review, he ends the review with “under the prim clothes there’s something wild and unmentionable and I wish she’d let it out.”) Logan’s comment on Henri Cole--“We reveal ourselves in our repetitions”--applies equally to himself as a critic, as does his comment on Jarrell: “Adjectives were not Jarrell’s strong point.”

Logan’s other major fault as a critic--his tendency toward the ad hominem attack--is what makes him an entertaining read (and a despised figure in a world full of back-scratching and false praise). These violations of critical decorum contribute more to his status as “the most hated man in American poetry” than his actual critical assessments do. Yet this matter is more than a lapse of decorum; it is a breach that undermines the reader’s trust not only in Logan as a critic but in criticism itself. A reader new to poetry, seeing Logan chastising a gay poet for his gaudy shallowness or an African-American poet for becoming a public figure, cannot be blamed for being turned off. Consider the following irrelevant comment: “Stephen Dunn is a rational man, probably a good husband and father, a generous and genial neighbor.” Predictably, this becomes a way for Logan to dismiss Dunn’s poems as “the stuff of scrapbooks.” While one might agree with Logan’s overall assessment of Dunn’s poetry, one should question his need to discuss Dunn as a person. If Dunn were an irrational man, a terrible husband and father, and selfish neighbor, would that make his poems more interesting? Of course not.

Elsewhere, he uses Kevin Young’s race as an excuse to take a shot at African-American writers in the academy, and accuses Charles Wright--one of the most prolific poets now writing--of “paralyzing laziness,” which apparently means not being as assiduous as Homer or Dante. Logan follows his half-vicious, half-perspicacious comment on Mark Doty--“Too often, he renders a world not transformed, just lacquered and varnished with a FOR SALE sign attached”--with a wholly vicious one: “If you hired him to design your house, it would end up looking like Versailles on a quarter acre, with gushing baroque fountains (concrete, not marble) and interiors by Liberace.” He might have had fun inventing this scenario, but it says nothing meaningful about Doty’s work.

The worst instance, however, concerns Rita Dove. Logan’s overarching argument--that Dove has become too famous to write good poems--turns on itself, since Logan’s entire review of Dove focuses on her fame. He spites his point to prove his point. Logan’s attack on Dove centers on her success--being named Glamour’s Woman of the Year, receiving numerous honorary doctorates, being Poet Laureate, etc.--which, he argues, has nothing to do with her poems. In other words, fame never guarantees good poetry. He’s right, of course, which makes his decision to review Dove’s career--rather than her poetry--questionable. Even when one agrees with Logan--say, when he writes, “[Eavan] Boland may want to bleed poetry, but often she just leaks self-importance,” “C.K. Williams is the guilt-ridden Peeping Tom of American poetry”--one has to question how being so personal can possibly benefit the criticism.

As entertaining as they can be, Logan’s barbs often serve as distractions from the matter supposedly at hand: the poetry. Because Logan is one of the few critics today who can write readable prose about Geoffrey Hill’s work, it’s unfortunate when he resorts to comments like “[Hill] would like to invent a poetry monks could enjoy (if poems came as hair shirts, he would have his own designer label).” There’s something schizophrenic about Logan’s critical persona: half scholar, half cocktail wag, he cannot let himself play it straight for more than a paragraph or two.

To Logan’s credit, he is willing to give a hard time to poets he usually admires--Hill, Schnackenberg, Anthony Hecht--while professing grudging admiration for poets who often annoy him--Carson, Charles Wright, Ashbery. He has come to admire Muldoon despite himself, gushing that Muldoon “sets himself impossible labors and exceeds them.” Sometimes, Logan’s put-downs can seem like wry compliments, as when he refers to Franz Wright as “a demonic version of William Carlos Williams.” And he can be brutally (and impersonally) right: “A poet’s talents exist in productive tension for only a decade or so. Before, the language is all main force, the subjects mistaken, the voice immature; after, the poet often hardens into manner.”

Logan’s model in wit, ambition, and ferocity, is, of course, Randall Jarrell. Like Jarrell, he can come up with zingers in his sleep, but Logan seldom puts them to legitimate use. His prolificness could be a source of this problem. Given limited time with which to engage a work, he too easily gives a book short shrift. If Logan were to live with a book for a year before assessing it, the resulting response would be fuller and more thoughtful, if not more positive. Logan possesses a strong mind and even stronger opinions, and despite its many faults, The Undiscovered Country is worth reading. Logan’s willingness to take a stand--even if for all the wrong reasons--distinguishes him from critics who seem intent on--and content with--passing off extended ad copy as criticism.

Monday, January 22, 2007

NEW! Review of Tessa Rumsey

The Return Message by Tessa Rumsey. W. W. Norton, $14.95.

Reviewed by L. S. Klatt

In The Return Message, Tessa Rumsey composes herself in the aftermath of “a love affair that ended badly.” Behind every lyric is a debris field of emotional wreckage--betrayal, miscarriage, broken engagement. Even the “cherry blossoms” are “caught. / Inside the static loop of loss.” If “all forms of landscape are autobiographical,” as Charles Wright once suggested, then what we have here in the “mountain streams of No-Where” is the poet at an impasse.

But bleak as that seems, The Return Message is not mired in the morbidly confessional; whatever her personal losses, Rumsey investigates the idea of love from a philosophical perspective. Rather than croon about heartache, she seeks ontological answers: if romance is only a biological impulse, then why, after intercourse, do I still long for my partner? “Does the soul--exist?”

The book identifies this craving for love with other human passions--namely, fame and transcendence. Are these evidences of personality or egomania? In one hilarious barb at the Rolling Stones, Rumsey writes, “memo to Mick: a spotlight shone on a body don’t infuse the body with soul.” But, on the other hand, his stage persona, to some extent, derives from audience acclaim. In The Return Message, identity is formed from without and within, at once concocted by others and self-expressed.

How different is Jagger from a Juliet lost in her Romeo’s adulation? “Consider The Individual, a tightly corseted continuum of light and ashes contained. /. . . in a burst of self. / Revelation: an exodus we call ‘falling in love’ or ‘abandoning one’s proper station.’” Untying the corset may not be “proper” but it is necessary; to be fully affirmed, the self must merge. Here and throughout, Rumsey posits a personhood that is blurred.

In Rumsey’s universe, all boundaries are artificial and therefore permeable. “If each world stops at walls of its interior-- / (Where one body begins, where the next body ends--) / Isn’t a wall a way of rubbing up against, of joining, of letting in?”

Even her grammar is not hard and fast. More often than not (note: “. . . in a burst of self. / Revelation”), the reader must ignore the period and roll through the stop in order to follow the thought: a hyper-enjambment.

Nor do the poems comprise a discrete series. Rather, they are paired, sharing a title and, wherever the book is opened, occupying left and right pages. But in these two versions of the same poem, the opposing lyrics are not mirror images but asymmetrical. The poem on the left side is consistently three lines long while the one on the right is more expansive. The first is elliptic, the second, digressive, and the two do not often coalesce.

Yet other poems among the hedgerows Rumsey has cultivated bear striking resemblances, and the reader encounters replications. For example, the “lipsynching” of “Headset” has already been anticipated in an earlier poem: “Because I could not be the songbird I found. / Another to croon my favorite tune.” Or in the opposite direction, “the cherry blossoms” of “April Fools” become “the Paradox of Cherry Blossoms, standing for winter and spring simultaneously” in “Fantasy Coat.” True to the design of a labyrinth--where one never knows which way is in and which is out--these passageways occupy the foreground and are complicated.

Rumsey’s “endless loop of landscape” sounds oddly similar to another line from Charles Wright--“all landscape is abstract and tends to repeat itself”--as if the organic material of Wright’s work has cross-pollinated. Certainly the two poets share an affinity for music, metaphysics, and Zen-like queries, but Rumsey more frequently strikes an exuberant, almost Thoreauvian note: “Don’t disappear! Shine brighter.” Such a plea resonates with “Copperopolis,” where she exclaims, “Every breathing body has a city buried. /. . . And lo! You are lit up from the inside!”

These moments resist the desperation we might expect from a poet obsessed with mortality. Though Rumsey stares down death and its concomitants, she remains inspired by the dazzle of the day-to-day, no matter how brief or troubled. The landscape, as it has for artists ad infinitum, keeps her musings grounded. This, after all, is a peregrinator who is wont “to ramble over. / Earth alone while still transmitting thoughts and feelings to whoever may be listening.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

NEW! Review of Nathalie Stephens

Touch to Affliction by Nathalie Stephens. Coach House Books, $16.95.

Reviewed by Meg Hurtado

With Touch to Affliction, Nathalie Stephens explores the poet-as-trespasser. Her speaker wanders through a world to which she clearly feels entitled (she intimately references the train stations and street corners of this poetically consecrated world). However, her cutting lyricism soon reveals that this city exudes not only loss but rapidly approaching danger, and her role within it is more than simply elegiac. Touch to Affliction strives to save what must endure, and Stephens’s speaker is responsible for this task. The poet plays both the elegant bard and the invincible journalist, leading the reader through a “city” that has fallen into the hands of its fate. Her double identity extends to a sense of double vision, which she manipulates gracefully through her awareness of language as song and system. Stephens conjures vibrant images and clarion scenes, but their beauty never compromises their full dimensionality. She has been assigned to search for both the inner and outer story of this “city.”

Her writing itself possesses the texture of light, revealing both what can and what cannot be seen. In one simple example, she says of “a dog lying heavily against a wall” that “It is or is not cold.” In many of the poems, Stephens dramatically expands this sense of double-sight. The fruits of this fearless expansion are several moments in which we know that the speaker is both living and dead. Such moments do not produce horror, nor any sense of a tortured, “ghostly” speaker. Rather, they comprise an achievement in clairvoyance just as serene as it is extraordinary.

The speaker of Touch to Affliction belongs to a world of transparency, a devastated city in which usual boundaries of culture, language, and survival have been removed. Even so, her awareness of such boundaries penetrates the text--constant references to the nature of language at first appear academic, but prove to be anything else. All of her linguistic theatrics eventually assert themselves as essential. Even the tiniest inversions of diction or unconventional, abstract syntax earn their place in this city.

The city could be Paris, to which she makes multiple references, but it could just as easily be 1945-Berlin, or 1917-Moscow, or any other city in time of strife. Fortunately, Stephens possesses such a miraculous intuition for and control of language that this breadth of subject does not damage her visceral nearness to the world of her creation. Though Stephens definitely conjures a visually and intellectually surreal landscape for this “city,” it is a surreality with which she is familiar. Such intimacy with the universal cannot help but impress and fascinate the reader, especially since she graphically describes the emergence of “the city” from her own thigh.

This image resurfaces many times in Touch to Affliction, as do several others, but the thoughts behind them remain ever-original and breathtaking. She identifies her city not only with all cities, but with all individuals. Furthermore, every individual is also a war, a tragedy. She asks, “What part of you is city? What part of you is famine?”

Stephens gives her speaker no immunity against this human-as-war identity. The speaker describes herself in blatantly geographical terms: “You identify me as a contested surface. A stripped margin of land.” Obviously, this gives rise to all kinds of existential questions, the answer to each of which is “yes.” Stephens’s ability to create double-realities seems unlimited--she has created a narrator both omniscient and completely subjective. This assessment also applies to the text itself. The reader may easily traverse half of Touch to Affliction before he or she notices its basic form. Stephens does not compromise between prose and poetry, but exploits language so well that her poems embody and transcend both mediums, just as “the city” must embody and transcend disaster and individuality.

With her view of every individual, including the speaker, as a war zone, Stephens appears “confessional” on many levels. Such a comfortable category feels long-lost and perhaps welcome to the reader, but Stephens boldly and bluntly refuses it, just as it seems to be most supported: “Not confessional. Evidence, rather, of the unspeakable. That thing toward which we move and we are an affront to the language we use to name it.”

She allows us no easy roads, but if one had to “bend [Stephens] into language,” one could call her a tragic poet, in the word’s truest sense--not only does she possess power over tragedy, but inimitable kinship with it. This is the “terrible beauty” of Yeats and the purity of contemporary European writers like Tomaz Salamun, sung by an earth-mother of humility and strength. Though Touch to Affliction waltzes with the tides of violence, Nathalie Stephens writes without fear or compromise, “brazen and stumbling.” Touch to Affliction is a clean, stone Madonna, buckled and rife with violence and the possibility of exultation.

Monday, January 15, 2007

NEW! Review of Camille Guthrie

In Captivity by Camille Guthrie. Subpress, $14.

Reviewed by Kate Seferian

Camille Guthrie jumpstarts her second book, In Captivity, with intrigue and exhilaration: her opening poem, “The Start of the Hunt,” spreads over nine pages and sets a suspenseful tone and level of intensity that enable the book to forge ahead and captivate the reader. Guthrie alternates between the contemplative and narrative voice and offers the reader a multitude of speakers--the lover, the prey, the predator, the quiet observer. The motif of the hunt pervades the book, whether appearing blatantly and literally, as in the opening poem when Guthrie writes a list of “What To Bring on a Hunt,” or emerging as the slight shadow behind the poet’s words as she secretly “first saw you / pearled primed bearded beading” in “At the Fountain.” Guthrie manipulates this motif, a theme normally expressed through visual art, to fit language rather than imagery. Most noted for its role as muse for painters and Greek mythology, hunting embodies a strong blend of impassioned emotions rooted in both the senses and the intellect. Historically, hunting hints at aristocracy as well as a social event that calls for rituals in certain cultures, and Guthrie includes all of these facets of the “traditional” hunt in her poems.

Guthrie includes only eleven poems in this collection, but she splits several of the poems over a series of pages, thus allowing the reader an unobstructed path to comprehension and absorption; the creation of sections offers a smooth transition from one page to the next and evades the weight and confusion often engendered in more compact, concentrated poetry. Despite the segmented structure of poems, Guthrie still manages to string the theme of the hunt from beginning to end and enthrall the reader with details of life’s literal and figurative pursuits. She describes herself in the collection’s first lines:
Nevertheless, like a blank piece of paper
I drifted along past buildings . . .

Withdrawing into cloudy heights
I walked up aimless blocks each day
Discord knocking about in my head

Sick with fear that had no form
Captured by my debt to pay
Wanting to make something of myself
Wanting knowledge & intimacy . . .

In the following sections, Guthrie erupts with the suspense, violence, and passion born from the chase--“this is the starting point because I look for danger / everywhere putting out feelers”--and later violence bursts to the forefront: “Scent hounds slip from the shore / Rashness, Desire, Anxiety, Fear & Grief / could ambush us you know / their snouts disappear into wild grasses . . . Cacophony rings like unstoppable capital / its edges echo into the trees / Such riches there / to rot have run.”

Guthrie experiments with structural segmentation in “My Boyfriend.” In a note at the back of the book explaining the source of inspiration for some of the poems, she explains that this poem was modeled after a list in Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel. Guthrie breaks down the boyfriend into three parts--his exterior, his interior, and his actions--and the poem is formed from these three sections. Guthrie mixes the earthly, natural, historical, and abstract to build the boyfriend’s character: “a back like chalked sidewalk,” “fingers like sparklers,” “elbows like antidotes,” “a skull like a geode,” “throat like a bold headline,” “bowels like surrealism,” “veins like Japanese characters.”

Guthrie concludes the book with the same segmented format of the beginning, and the final poem, “In Captivity,” while laced with the grief and anxiety of personal, psychological confinement along with more macrocosmic burdens, closes with optimism and anticipation for something greater: “Captured by your debt to pay / You are the genius of this shore / And will be truthful to your words / To all who listen from here on.” Guthrie spends much of the collection reflecting upon her own personal hunts or those that exist around her, but in the final poem she addresses “you,” potentially the reader, and finishes with insight directed toward the audience. In meshing the more intangible, philosophical illusions and aspects of the hunt with the physical and personal, Guthrie achieves flexibility with a topic that could be dangerously limited.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

new issue of Verse

The new issue of Verse is out. Click on the link above for details. The discounted offer is good through January.

Up next: a big issue devoted to French poetry & poetics.