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Poetry Roundup

Lewis Warsh, Inseparable
(Granary Books, 2008)

Lewis Warsh—luminous waltz. These writings possess an otherness, an alterity that persists as they switch from verse to prose to poetry. The introspective narrator achieves a sui generis quality, unlike anything you’ve read before.

Sometimes structures surface. “Consecutive Sentences” suggests non-sequiturs, but Warsh pushes the ball forward by repeating words or themes. Similarly, by hopping from pronoun to pronoun in section 13 of “The Flea Market at Kiel,” he frames the reflecting pond. The traces we follow aren’t strictly linear since “we’re changing contexts at full speed.” Still, it’s clear someone is talking directly to us: “Finish this sentence…."

The poet draws from copious notebooks, making observations that toggle between philosophical and pedestrian. His convincing balancing act admits the proposed and the overheard.

“Or more to the point,” the poems resonate. The titles of the thirty-five poems are laconic and catchy: “Flight Test,” “Disorderly Conduct” and “Last Cigarette,” But the poems are proliferous as Warsh circles his target and reports in from advantageous vantages.

You can get wonderfully lost in these poems where “We float out past the reef & the rocks.” Present and past commingle, propelling the words into the future. Memories, places, people and experiences are banked. The poet’s steady voice kindles them as he breathes through the lines.

Cristina Peri Rossi, State of Exile
(City Lights Books, 2008)

Li Po, Ovid, Dante, Tsvetaeva… what a venerated tradition the exiled Uruguayan poet, Cristina Peri Rossi shares. When her searing work was banned for criticizing government brutality, she fled the juntas of the ’70s and began a journey without a destination at the age of 31. “Exile is a blind river winding from country to country.” The poems are so intensely personal that they remained private for thirty years.

“Rage… pain… compassion… sorrows…” are the stuff of this heartrending but gutsy collection. The sea, ships, maps and birds haunt the pages. Poverty, nostalgia and despair are painted with direct, terse strokes. Even language, a poet’s best friend, now unfamiliar, reinforces the numbing isolation.

The dream of returning, testament to a fierce love of country, offers false hope in a world where “we lose what we win/ and what was won/ is lost in the flight.” Peri’s spirit soars in spite of the crushing anguish.

A diary of displacement, loaded with disappearances, the spare works cut as they catalog loss. Every smallest thing is missed: “a chair/ a lamp/ a blooming privet/ the sound of the sea/ all lost, // weigh as much as Mama’s absence.”

Finally, Rossi notes in her forward, she has made a home in Barcelona and finds “redemption in love.”

August Kleinzahler, Sleeping If Off in Rapid City: Poems, New and Selected
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)

A good poet can take you on a trip and make you feel like you’re right there. A great poet gets in your blood—you become the bard. August Kleinzahler casts his landscapes with just the right combo of big words, colloquial phrases, colors, names, flora and fauna to remind you how poetry can be closer to life than any art form.

Using every kind of language, from pithy clichés to startling invention, Kleinzahler renders the world with stylish pizzazz, registering the decay while championing the character. From boarded up Dairy Queens and old factories to “what was once the amusement park”—a theme of loss permeates, casting a Romantic gloss over all.

Portraits of humanity and nature call out like a semi’s horn as we travel along Route 9 or I-95. Hobbyists, actors, alkies, janitors and couples populate the delicious discourse, along with geographical, geological and gastronomical particulars. In “Traveler’s Tales: Chapter 12,” Kleinzahler asks the burning question for all of us who want to believe: “What is the function of art in society today?” Maybe it’s to keep language sharp, spry and supple and supply us with a notion of the sublime. To nail the right detail, e.g., the “spindrift of grunion spume,” and to conjure a spellbinding “atmosphere of mystery.”


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2008

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