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Book Review: Poetry Round-Up

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Fire Exit
Robert Kelly
Black Widow Press, 2009, $19.95
Bard professor Kelly, author of 60-some books, once wrote “Language is astrology indoors,” and Fire Exit, a novel-length group of linked lyrics, reads sometimes like conjuring or incantation. One poem says, “The words come in like crows to wake us,” and awakening may range from gnomic pronouncement to arresting image to exquisite enigma. The flexible three-line stanzas are strewn over the pages like flower petals or constellations. Attentive and off-hand graceful, the language is redemptive. In a single poem, he moves from subatomic particles to apocatastasis to erotic images to “scissor up the Visa card and rest in peace / death is the opposite of cash / the mortgage that you can pay off never.” —WS

Hurricane Hymn
H. R. Stoneback
Codhill Press, 2009, $20
With the first poem on the flooding of New Orleans, the reader is tossed into the hurricane’s maelstrom, which in Stoneback’s rendering includes an unsettling variety of voices. His unashamedly ornate rhetoric runs a broad gamut of tone, rich with music and passion. Prior to joining the professoriat, he collaborated with Jerry Jeff Walker and played with Dylan at Gerde’s Folk City, and this background is evident not only in references to Fats Domino and Hank Williams but also in the poet’s highly accessible engagement. One poem’s title links the Fisher King with Delta Recon, and the language throughout runs smoothly from recondite to colloquial. —WS

Quantum Jitters
Patricia Carlin
Marsh Hawk Press, 2009, $15
Stone Ridge resident and Barrow Street editor Patricia Carlin’s voice is both erudite and subtle. The poems in her second book with Marsh Hawk Press, Quantum Jitters, slyly navigate Cartesian quandaries and calmly ruminate on the dubious outcomes of history and human evolution—all the while darting, with a personal avidity that seeks a certain quality of air or light, into the fearful zone between death and desire: “The time of spiders arrived: / that seemed pure play of light, / ideas borne on light.” —MD

The Breakup of My First Marriage
Bruce Weber
Rogue Scholars Press, 2009, $13.95
Woodstock resident Bruce Weber is a poet, curator, and longtime fixture on the downtown spoken-word scene. His latest book provides a perfect storm of deadpan self-slighting admixed with tenderness and naiveté: “you’re too big / to get in this poem / especially when I’m trying to sneak it in my back pocket / on my way out of cuba.” There is urgency in these poems (which often take the form of monometric columns of words), whether it be a strip-club lament, an Abbie Hoffman elegy, or invectives, including one against the New Yorker magazine and one against his parents. —MD

The King
Rebecca Wolff
W. W. Norton & Co., 2009, $24.95
In this collection of poems on pregnancy and motherhood, Rebecca Wolff avoids preconceptions and conventions and provides the reader with on-the-money sketches of maternal moods cast in focused colloquial language that takes, at times, surprising turns. Her chiseled language handles ugliness or anxiety with aplomb. Instead of sentimentality or neomythic goddessworship, the reader finds the startling title “I am on drugs,” in which the persona declares her “irresponsibility,” saying the coming child’s life (like our own) will be “a test.” In another piece, Wolff says “having had children” is what Buddhists call suffering. That suffering, of course, is nothing other than life. —WS

Thirsting For Peace in a Raging Century
Let’s Not Keep Fighting the Trojan War

Edward Sanders
Coffee House Press, 2009, $20/volume
In reading Woodstock Poet Laureate Ed Sanders’ two-volume Selected Poems, one marvels at the synergetic fusion of his poetic calling and his laudable career as an activist. The power of the righteous utterance to mutate reality is an article of faith for the countercultural leader, who famously led chants to exorcise the Pentagon. His lyrics ring forth optimism—“And this is the age of left-wing epics with happy endings!”—even while chronicling the villainies of J. Edgar Hoover and Dick Cheney. Antiquity is also relevant to him: Sappho and Aeschylus make frequent entries, and the poet’s playful neohieroglyphics have astounding poignancy. —MD

Or To Begin Again
Ann Lauterbach
Penguin Poets, 2009, $18
National Book Award finalist and Bard professor Lauterbach’s poems enact the “twirling destructive glamour” of our political and personal environments. Her poems move from dread (“names of the dead in tiny print, in alphabetical order”) toward rapture (“I am thinking of coming back as / part of your coat as a tree is part wind”). Through “the tricky ordeal of words,” we reveal ourselves: in each “core” an “ore,” as young Alice, in the brilliant centerpiece “Alice in the Wasteland,” discovers through a witty dialogue with a voice that goads her toward self-knowledge. One of our most innovative writers, Lauterbach is a poet of great “moral imagination.” —LG

Winter Crows
Barry Sternlieb
Codhill Press, 2009, $16.00
Barry Sternlieb’s Winter Crows (winner of the 2008 Codhill Press Poetry Chapbook Competition) has a few nice erotic pieces (“the smell of that hair like the inlet”), but, as the title might suggest, much of the work is not so heated. An advocate for craftsmanship, Sternlieb compares poetry to carpentry: “How much goes into making words / like level and true feel workable as prayer.” Most characteristically, he contemplates the cold and spare, even the void, expressing the appeal of absence and silence. His ideal is the “nameless” mountain hermit in a “one room shack / where a candle / is left burning.” —WS

An Introduction to the Prose Poem
edited by Brian Clements and Jamey Dunham
Firewheel editions, 2009, $26
Prose poetry combines two apparently dissimilar forms into something hard to categorize but powerful, like a centaur. This meaty 328-page anthology includes works by Pablo Neruda, Charles Simic, Margaret Atwood, and Jorge Luis Borges alongside local contributors John Ashbery, Jeff Davis, Cornelius Eady, P.P. Levine, and Philip Pardi.

Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude
edited by Jim Perlman, Deborah Cooper, Mara Hart, and Pamela Mittlefehldt
Holy Cow! Press, 2009, $16.95
Featuring local contributors Joseph Bruchac, Judith E. Prest, Ken Salzman, and a diverse group of poets including Lucille Clifton, Li-Young Lee, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Rumi.

Wildflowers: A Woodstock Mountain Poetry Anthology
Volume X: Small Press Revolution!
Shivastan Poetry, 2009, $10
16 local iconoclasts cavort in this limited edition, craftprinted in Nepal. The roster of poets includes Lee Ann Brown, Andy Clausen, Jom Coh, David Cope, Hettie Jones, Donald Lev, Louise Landes Levi, Shiv Mirabito, Thurston Moore, Ed Sanders, Janine Pommy Vega, and Peter Lamborn Wilson.


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