Two upcoming poets: Gregory Kiewiet and Lily Brown

Gregory Kiewiet, In The Company of Words (Past Tents Press, 2006), 114 pp., $12.00; Lily Brown, Old With You (Kitchen Press, 2009), unpaginated, $7.00—Kiewiet’s first book is an interesting collection of styles, from straightforward narrative (which dominates the first quarter of the book) to more procedural, if not experimental, forms. The most successful of the longer sequences that dominate the book are “Foursomes” and “Rooms Without Locks.” The best of these are wry, semi-ironic commentaries on doubt and uncertainty (“Not for lack of purpose/ the ever-impending backwards glance/making it impossible/ to stir the soup and listen to the radio:/ Ravel or Satie?” Sometimes Kietwiet’s wit can be brittle to the point of sardonic, as demonstrated in this pithy paper cut from “Foursomes”: “Whose turn is it/ to love or leave?/ The acres of unanswered questions/ “’Cream or sugar’?” Less successful are the individual poems and sequences clearly influenced by Michael Palmer. Kiewiet lacks Palmer’s ear—sound is the most important element in the latter’s work—and, just as significant, lacks the ability to ironize irony as Palmer so often does, especially in his “children” poems. On the other hand, Lily Brown’s ear is fine. Moreover, she has completely absorbed the strategies and attendant values (aesthetic and ethical) in the work of her major influences, Wallace Stevens and Barbara Guest. Brown, like Guest, is attentive to the quotidian, but the seemingly unlimited, irreverent powers of the mind are tempting: “Fascinated/ I stay in/ for days, riding cars// straight through stop/signs, riding cars past// speed signs that blaze/ white, head-// light shining back/ penalty…”  And because “…Thought/works off its mooring” she “…skim[s]/ for feeling, no/ literal intent.” Living out Keats’ tribute to dwelling among uncertainties without any irritable reaching after fact and reason, Brown’s “I,” multiple and shifting, reaches after others (“I want social, want ears”). Among others, animals figure prominently, enough to suggest an ecological tamping down of the egotistical. Nowhere is this suggested more powerfully than in the remarkable tribute to Stevens, “Leaf At The End,” that closes the book. Here is the last, Guest-esque, stanza in its entirety:

I find a pile of antlers in the woods, assembled

for burning. I crawl beneath them and stay

there when the burners come with their fire.

Up in the canopy I dangle, touching nothing.