The Gate of Horn, the third book by L. S. Asekoff is his first book in quite a while (his first two were published in 1994, and 1997), so I did not know much about this poet. But what a fascinating and bewildering read! These poems are jam-packed with original and wide-ranging language and ideas. Just take the poem "Farrago: an Aria." You can hear it read in its entirety on Penn Sound, where Asekoff mentions by way of introduction that the poem began as an opera for four voices, and eventually became a monologue for one voice, a diva, who either lives in Fargo, ND, or at the Dakota in NY. Here is a brief excerpt:
. . .
Herr Doktor Doppler,
whether you blew my mind or read my mind,
as the wave collapsed back upon itself
I knew I was a victim of these beautiful misreadings —
"rain on silver stilts," "Adam's myth," "the mishearing of sheep in Australia,"
the true cauchemar on the aubergine couch.
Psychoanalysis, the Baron hissed,
the shameful spectacle of a child abusing its parents!
Yet who does not want reparations for his childhood?
O, shadow of melancholy in the garden,
as the illusory arrow speeds backward toward its naked singularity,
Mira, the Wonder Star, signals from the tail of the Whale!
. . .
The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception is also Martha Silano's third book and, like Asekoff, she has a brilliant mind, and a pretty incredible gift for language and imagery. These poems blend cosmology, nature, motherhood, marriage, and cooking, all into a rich soup. Or is it a gravy? Read this book, and you will understand what I mean (what Silano means) about the gravy:
" . . . glutinous gravy an iridescent and variably pulsing gravy
the gravy of implosion a dying-that-births-duodenums gravy
gravy of doulas of dictionaries and of gold
the hand stirs the liquid steams
and we heap the groaning platter with glistening
the celestial chef looking on as we lift our plates
lick them like the cat come back from a heavenly spin
because there is oxygen in our blood
because there is calcium in our bones
because all of us are cooked
in the gleaming Viking range
of the stars"
(from "It's All Gravy" pg 89-90)
The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands is Nick Flynn's third book of poems (hmmm, all third books so far?). The cover is an arresting image of a man standing on a beach, covered with crows (counting crows?). The poems blend images from the poet's personal life, the literary cannon and pop music, with recent world news, particularly the war in Iraq and the torturing of political prisoners at Abu Ghraib. They are fairly spare, with lots of white space, and some occasional great lines, such as "We created a wasteland . . ./& called it peace." But the overall effect is a little thin. For instance, the long poem "Seven Testimonies (redacted)" uses erasure for its technique, but the result is much less interesting than the original testimonies (printed in the back of the book for easy comparison) they are taken from. I wasn't sure if perhaps the poem ends up diminishing the prisoners' lived experience, and becomes a kind of artful misappropriation? Hmmmm.
The Book of Men, Dorrianne Laux. I have always been a fan of Dorriane Laux and her new book (with its erotic images of flowers coming out of a pair of men's underpants) is a delight. The poems are her usual long single-stanza narratives, with great imagery, arresting language, and her characteristic rough and tumble attitude. She has poems to rock stars (Cher, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, the Beatles), poems to past boyfriends, to a foster child-friend who shot himself in the foot, to Phil Levine, to Superman. One of the interesting things was a set of three of the poems that had a form where each line ended with the same word/sound. Here is one of them (which you can hear her read over at Cortland Review):
The first of us must have looked up at the night agog,
so many stars, so much light falling down, the bugs
back then big as fists, so many rivers and ponds clogged
with fish we skewered them on sticks, made a fire, bred dogs
from wolves to keep us warm, safe, pines wrapped in fog
or morning mist, the sheep braying beside us, groggy,
their bellies filled with wet grass, the feral pigs become hogs
in a pen, cloven hooves slathered in mud. We built jagged
fences to keep what we didn't want out, what we did, in, logs
were dragged through a field by horses, a house rose, mugs
placed on a shelf, a table set with plates. Then the nagging
began: Who left the feedbag in the rain? Who forgot to plug
the hole with a rag? The children grew, little quagmires
we sank into. We fed them, scrubbed them, raised them, rang
a bell for supper, school, for the one who died, the soggy
earth taking her back, the others running unaware, tagging
each other in the dusk, calling out numbers. But still the vague
unrest in the dark looking up at the moon, the old dog wagging
his flea laden tail, barking for no reason they could tell, zagging
off like an uncle drunk on busthead whiskey, back into the trees.
Present Vanishing, by Dick Allen. I picked this book up off the shelf at Elliott Bay and was intrigued by the long poem "American Buddhism," especially the opening section "Five Household Statues of Buddha." And I was not disappointed. This is a wonderful mature collection, with poems about home life, relationships, gardening, politics and society, the Vietnam War (I think the poet is a vet), aging and the passage of time, and the wonderful poem near the end of the collection, "So, What Did You Do With Your Life?" Read more about it at Sarabande's website.