Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some recent poetry

Now and then I like to mention a few of the new books of poems I have been reading. Usually from authors I don't know, or have never met.

10 Mississippi, by Steve Healy. This one was recommended to be by John Marshall at Open Books, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The central poems series, "10 Mississippi" explores the phenomenon of river drownings, and language (poetry is a river of language, perhaps?), and of course has the lovely conceit of "1 Mississippi" "2 Mississippi" . . . and so on. Here's a taste:

5 Mississippi

Foul play was not suspected, police did not
release further details including whether there
were signs of foul play, the cause of death
will not be known until the autopsy is completed
but foul play is not suspected, it's too early to say
how she died or whether foul play was involved,
authorities do not suspect foul play in her death,
we don't have any information to indicate
that foul play was involved but we haven't
completely ruled that out until we complete
our investigation said the sheriff, foul play
was not suspected in the death, all authorities
have been able to determine is that the body
is believed to be that of an adult.

Though the poem falls a little flat at the end, I love the flow of language, how it is almost like an NPR radio story gurgling in the background, haunting and riveting, and slowly submerging us.


Selected Poems, Mary Ruefle. She has been writing for a long time, but I was not that familiar with her work. This selected is from Wave Books, and the cover is a plain white wrapper, sort of like the Beatles's White Album, I thought. She has many short lyrics, that explore ideas, experience, in a very universal way. Sort of like Kay Ryan poems, but wider, more expansive. Here's a taste:

The Last Supper

It made a dazzling display:
the table set with meat
from half a walnut, a fly
on a purple grape, the grape
lit from within and the fly
bearing small black eggs.
We gathered round the oval table
with our knives, starved
for some inner feast.
We were not allowed to eat,
as we had been hired as models
by the man at our head.
Days passed
in which we grew faint with hunger.
Later we were told
that although we did not appear
on the canvas
our eyes devouring these things
provided the infinite light.

I love how the situation in this poem, of being a human model for a still life painting, one in which you do not appear, but for which you "provided the infinite light." Wonderful!


The Lightning that Strikes the Neighbors' House, Nick Lantz. This is the second of the two books that came out together (the other was the amazing We Don't Know, We Don't Know). I don't think it is a strong as the latter, but there are a lot of good poems here. My faves so far: "The Marian Apparitions" which explores the phenomenon of people seeing the face of the Virgin Mary in everything: a grilled cheese, a peach pit, the water stains on a highway pillar. And what it all might mean -- "We are/hardwired to recognize faces--the unresponsive infant/is abandoned, or so the logic goes." The long poem "The History of Fire" is pretty wonderful, too.


Pleasure, Brian Teare. Though my friend Jeff Crandall was horrified by the bright red cover, with a photo of two men, one with his face obliterated, I thought the cover was beautiful and mysterious, and was part of why I picked up the book off the shelf. The poems explore the loss of a husband-lover (his "Adam") in modes varying from lyric meditation to prose poem to elliptical fragments to abstract word salad. My favorite part was the long sequence of "Used Books & Records" poems. Here is a taste(excerpted, with formating/spacing not exact--sorry):

XI. Used Books & Records : Elegiac Action : To Listen

"When I was your age
I thought about death

constantly New York
I had just moved I lived alone

My job was difficult

and I would sleep on the subway
to and from work Sometimes

I would miss my stop

and wake up as if in the middle
of a dream somewhere I had no

name for I thought about death
the way people do at your age

. . . .


from where my body
sat a woman slowly

flickered her handbag
her flats expressionless

when she disappeared

I knew she had died

and the same thing
would happen to each passenger

and the car would keep going

. . . .

I was not surprised
when my own body

began to flicker

I was not surprised

I was not



Happy reading!!



SarahJane said...

I like the cover of the Teare book, too, and the radioactive red.
That Ruefle poem is great - I have her book "Post Meridian," which I wasn't crazy about. I should try something else of hers, since I've so often liked the individual poems.

Peter said...

HI Sarah Jane: yes, do try the selected. It's a good collection.