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April 2000

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Poetry
EVERYTHING PAID FOR
Robley Wilson
University Press of Florida


   This is an interesting collection of poems presented in several forms that usually cripple any sense of fun or wonder in a poem. Wilson s voice through most of the pieces is strong and direct about his subjects. He is at his best when talking one on one with the reader in pieces like Legacies, in which he remembers the death of his grandmother by fire, or in Blood, where he ponders the meaning of a one woman's menus while watching the blood of his wife's cycle flow down the shower drain as he washes after sex. There is less strength to be found in the pieces where he takes on a third person narrative, but these are still interesting. Reminiscent of William Stafford, Wilson makes the everyday difficulties of the world into accessible poetry and thereby shows their universality.

Carlye Archibeque


IN THE SURGICAL THEATER
Dana Levin
American Poetry Review Press


    This is one of the best collections of poetry I have read in a long time. It's the winner of the American Poetry Review/ Hoickman First Book Prize, but this should not deter people normally put off by academic prize-winners. The collection also has an introduction by Louise Gluck (see above disclaimer). Levin's poetical voice uses simple language to explore the dark world of death, dying and decaying; sometimes literally, other times metaphorically. Working outward from the most personal thing that can be lost or threatened, the poems are divided into three groups: Body, Home and World.
   The opening poem, "Lenin's Body", gives the reader a fly on the wall feel as the dead leader is prepared for burial, and the last of the poems, "Smoke", captures the tenuous feeling of holding on to a national, or really any, reality too tightly. "Where are we going, my nation, my loved one/ in this pit of water where we'll drown come Spring/ in this poem without instruction/ without point or moral/ where the smoke stands in for the flame." This simple straight forward style is as refreshing as it is startling. In the wasteland that both academics and street poets have allowed modern poetry to become, Dana Levin, has, it seems, offered a voice for the dispossessed.

Carlye Archibeque


MYSTERY BRUISE
Terry Wolverton
Red Hen Press


   In her collection of poems, 'Mystery Bruise', Terry Wolverton brilliantly reconstructs the bruises and scars that make up a life. Through her words, we see the American landscape in dark and somber tones. It is a land that has orphaned it's children, turned it's back on battered lovers and ignored the sick and dying. Make no mistake. These are not survivor poems. We don't read through this collection because it offers hope or inspiration. You won't find that here. We read on because of the shared experiences, the lost loves and the shared suffering. We read on because we can't help but feel for these broken children, the squandered love and the dead friends. We read on because Wolverton isn't afraid to look her demons in the eye. We read on because she tells the truth.
   In 'The Dead Stepfather" Wolverton speaks of the death of her estranged stepfather. She says: 'If there had been a funeral, incense/would have smelled like gunpowder, gasoline,/and gin, pews crowded with barflys, aging/soldiers, used care salesmen, ghosts of children/clutching red balloons. We would have sung "The One Rose," in lugubrious chorus, then/shared a stiff drink all around.' By the end, we realize that this isn't just a man she is speaking of. Not just some arbitrary monster, it is part of her. It is the uncaring and unforgiving world around her. It is us, because none of us escapes unscarred and this is why we read on.

John Costanzo


 
THE RAIN AT MIDNIGHT
Joseph Hutchison
Sherman Asher Publishing


   This is the fourth book of poetry by Joseph Hutchinson and the first time I have come in contact with his work. So poetry goes. There is probably a horde of talented poets out in the world that I have never had contact with, and until now, Hutchison has been one of them. THE RAIN AT MIDNIGHT is organized into five sections. The poetry in each is excellent but I favor the first two sections: "St. Failure's Hospital" and "The Oldest Fear" and the last, "Brightness and Shadow", for their straight forward approach to telling a story. The piece I keep returning to is in the first section and is titled "Daffodils". "Let's speak of anguish at the root / of daffodils..." the poet begins, and falls hopelessly into the most spectacular diatribe about hopelessness. "Let's talk about how sick we've become / of breath....Let's lie down in the dirt and blossom in silence."
   Everything in Hutchison's world is alive with longing and regret, especially the writer. In "The One Armed Boy", the protagonist lies almost asleep and "the arm / that never was reaches out, / touches something even the boy / can't name. Like rain at midnight / falling into a field of poppies, it / gently bathes his non-existent hand."" His is the language of bones, flesh and blood caught up in a world that feels cruel, but may just be unconcerned. His work also reflects a sense of humor of the sort that has made bitterness bearable in the work of better known writers like Billy Collins or Tony Hoagland. In "Sandman", the writer tries to coax the saint of insomniacs into a drunken sleep so that he too may sleep, but finds, "He's taken a powder...and wants to talk, / talk, talk about his sleepless life. Well, / what can I do? I hug him like a brother. / I let him cry on my shoulder till dawn."
   I could go on for a while about Hutchison's way with words, but it would be much better if you took them out for a spin for yourself.

Carlye Archibeque


 
LLUVIA EN EL DESIERTO
Rain in the Desert
Marjorie Agosin
Sherman Asher Press


    Once again Marjorie Agosin has given the world a book of poetry that is at once both awesomely beautiful and painfully disturbing. A travelogue through the Atacama Desert, (the real desert as well as the desert of the human soul), where Chilean mothers searched for their disappeared children during the rein of Agousto Pinoche, this is a book to be wept over in candle lit rooms. Presented, as always, with the Spanish original alongside the English translation, I am forced, as an English speaker, to rely on the accuracy of Celeste Kostopolus-Cooperman's translation, but given the sheer force and depth of the language here I can only believe that this is a just translation. Agosin's desert is a living force, a place "...where the day was a sun in love with itself...", a place with a voice and a presence that draws people to seek out whatever horrors or hope it has contained in its memory, because Agosin's desert does have a memory a well as a soul. The characters of these poems constantly visit the desert searching, sleeping and making love amid reoccurring themes of rain and night ("She wanted to know the night when // the silence conjured the souls of the dead."). The poems here are transcendent and stunning to the mind as well as the mind's eye. Agosin is able to conjure images for the reader the way most filmmakers only dream of and her work should be read with the deliberation you would give a fine bottle of wine. If you are unfamiliar with her work this is a fine place to begin your acquaintance, and if you are already a fan I'm sure I don't need to say anymore.

Carlye Archibeque

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