Reviews - October 2011

Not just to see and note the birds but to say them

A review of 'A Reading: Birds'

little red leaves / down to bare words

Both the name of this publisher and the first line of the book’s single poem answer each other, in their two four-syllable joinings of language to the natural world. But the words in the book are not so bare, sewn into covers whose outer life consists of light blue and white geometrical patterns that alternatively make me think of abstracted patterns of clouds and a weaving together of the world. Cranes and flowers grace the inner covers, and in the poems, a weaving of words, with little abstraction, though indicating a great and perhaps mystical geometry of nature.

The cranes flying through the fog, out of the sun into the
open valley to feed, with ducks and geese and tundra
swans, the flocks so numerous in the old days they say the
sky was darkened for hours with their passing. (9)

Getting to know each other better

A review of 'Lovely, Raspberry'

Serious is the name of a former contestant on Flavor of Love. Serious is a misdemeanor. Serious means grave or somber, which Aaron Belz’s second poetry collection, Lovely, Raspberry, is not, or it can mean thoughtful, critical and earnest, which the collection is. More importantly, it’s a pleasure to read.

The poems don’t trumpet intentions of grandeur, but through their brightness, musicality, and richness of imagery, they invite connection in an idiosyncratic way. Concern for the reader is never abandoned. Empathy-sans-pandering is the book’s signature style.

Morse Code

A review of 'After Jack'

Many young poets tend to reveal the love affairs they have had with their ancestors to greater or lesser degree in their work. Ezra Pound’s early poetry, to take just one example, is full of bent knees and kissed cheeks for a variety of influential predecessors, from Rossetti and Browning to Swinburne and Ernest Dowson, not to mention the trouvères and troubadours. This is a wholly natural phenomenon, and not to be tut-tutted by anyone unless the obeisance turns into a lifelong devotion that prevents the poet from developing into something sui generis. At a completely different level, poets among and since the high modernists have often used another text or writer, as Joyce did Homer and Pound did Propertius, for a purpose far beyond influence or imitation. Duncan and Stein, Spicer and Lorca, even the Zukofskys and Catullus, comprise writerly doublings that produced highly original and compelling texts that are, in fact, about love before they are about anything else. (“Miss her, Catullus? Don’t be so inept to rail / at what you see perish when perished is the case.”) But then influence is about love too (“an affect, wild often / That is so proud he hath Love for a name / Who denys it can hear the truth now.” That’s Pound in Canto XXXVI of course, imitating and reimagining Cavalcanti’s “Donna mi prega.”) 

Apocalypse and/or poiesis

A review of '2000 Years of Mayan Literature'

This is an account of loss. Dennis Tedlock’s exegetic anthology of two thousand years of Mayan literature, a book a lifetime in the making, slips too snugly onto the shelf. I think of Legge and Müller’s fifty-volume Sacred Books of the East. A project of similar magnitude would be in order for Mesoamerica. What survived of Mayan literature is, however, scant. What survived of Mayan literature is, for this reason, staggeringly significant. Tedlock’s dedication and diligence has provided these remains with the gravity they merit.

Cookies and vortices

A review of 'The Madeleine Poems'

And I begin to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof, but the indisputable evidence, of its felicity, its reality, and in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished.
— Marcel Proust, Swan’s Way

It’s hard to think about the Madeleine of Paul Legault’s The Madeleine Poems without thinking about Proust’s madeleine cookie in Swan’s Way. Proust’s madeleine serves as a type of wormhole that propels the narrator through time and space to an otherwise irretrievable memory. Legault’s Madeline, however, is more of a vortex, a presence that presides over the collection, which simultaneously gathers and vaporizes the poem’s subject matter, leaving essences, memories, shadows.