The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2012

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OCT 2012 Issue

Rapid Transit

Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt
(Nation Books, 2012)

In this shake up call, four devastated communities (termed “sacrifice zones”) are portrayed with tragic clarity. From the riot-burned ruins of Camden, New Jersey, to the bleak farm-worker camps in Florida, the book gives a hard look at very harsh conditions. Yet, the focus is on the survivors and fighters, folks who “refused to yield.”

Violence, crime, and abuse rip through Michael Red Cloud’s unnerving bio of life on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the poorest place in America. After predictably landing in jail, this descendant of the great chief Red Cloud turned back to Lakota spirituality and became a power for good.

West Virginian Larry Gibson created a nature preserve by buying land to save from coal mining’s destruction. He credits a union upbringing with the will and skill “to fight back.”

Passionate prose is balanced with hard facts about corruption, rigged court hearings, and blacklists. Deepening the reader’s empathy and filling out the narratives, Sacco’s graphics humanize the characters in ways words can’t.

And in the fight for humanity, we need to be reminded daily of “The rogue’s gallery of Wall Street crooks—such as Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs.”

In a final chapter about Occupy Wall Street, Hedges reflects on the movement’s tactics and alliances. He touts new ways to outflank what he portrays as the greedy, immoral elite.

This searing indictment of our unsustainable society is unsettling. To keep our chance for dignity, we must do our part to champion the organizers and whistleblowers, committee members and protesters.

Amen. Pass the word.

Jonathan Galassi
(Borzoi Books, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012)

A dash of Verlaine steals through these tender, hopeful, and indestructible verses. Jonathan Galassi shows a full hand, touching on all the high notes of romance, longing, seduction, and keen observation.

The most hard-hitting poems reside in a rarified atmosphere of economy and splendor. “The Scarf” mopes about a lover’s disaffection. “When or if you wear / your Loro Piana scarf / the one I gave you…” is intimate, capturing silken angst with concision.

Galassi underpins his poems with radiant threads, glints of Umbria, Cambridge, the lake and the terrace. The gem-like sonnet “Shine” revels in Williams’s notion of “no ideas but in things.” Rich details are spun out, from “melon water sliding off a chin” to “a patent-leather glow.”

Only rarely does the conversational tone lose its luster and surprise as in “Middle Age” and “Seventh Avenue.”

Formal, reserved, and revealing, the poems arc from failure at love (in “Youth”) to tentative exultation at the end (“Young Maple in Ghent”). With an unerring ear for allegory, Galassi has the maple stand in for life and “the few long perfect days we get.”

Bracketing the entire collection are two talismanic poems in italics: “Envoi” and “Ruins.” Reflecting on Mayan stones in the latter, Galassi chisels an enduring epitaph. Sleek and fast, these poems are built to last.

Nichita Stănescu
Wheel with a Single Spoke
(Archipelago Books, 2012)

Nichita Stănescu is considered to be Romania’s greatest contemporary poet and this work going back to 1960 shows why. Marked by wit, humor, and dialectical feints, he pleats together aspects of our existence with utmost urgency.

Stănescu faces the big issues. In “What is Life?” he interrogates solitude and fate, until there is “no room, no room for questions.” In “Bloodmobile” he mocks war and generals while trying to grasp the larger forces at work.

The tone is dramatic, like that of fellow countryman Eugene Ionesco, while his surreal images are akin to those of Andrei Codrescu and Valery Oisteanu. “It was crushed music / running down our ankles.” He adroitly anthropomorphizes the landscape as the moon lays an egg and “lava loses its mind.”

The role of a poet is to be a spokesman for the human race. True to the singularity of this role, Stănescu can feel alone on a stage of magical props and proxy ghosts.

In “Forward Movement,” a slim poem of gripping metaphors, each couplet begins with “I am.” “I am a word spoken / that leaves behind a body.”

Desire is concentrated here and springs off the page as Stanescu declares, “I am time leaping / from a crystallizing hour.”

Where the stars exist in “halted time” and a horse stands in for heaven, Stanescu’s voice reaches back to medieval times with utter originality.


Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

JEFFREY CYPHERS WRIGHT is a poet, publisher, critic, collage artist and eco-activist involved in the community gardens of New York City.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2012

All Issues