Saturday, June 25, 2016

Four Poets

Smart, inventive, observant, the poems of Kay Ryan are a genuine delight. The lesser poems in this New and Selected are the fallouts of her strengths. When the love for epigram trumps the fire of imagination. When the final rhyming pair clicks shut but the box is empty. The Best of It allows through too much. Thin poems are best collected in a thin volume. "Things Shouldn't Be So Hard" affords a rare glimpse into the private life. It leaves me wanting more, not for the sake of voyeurism, but for the sake of the complete victory.

Brian Turner's book of poems Here, Bullet is about miscomprehensions as much as it is about the misadventures of war. The book foregrounds the Arabic language in the prelude poem, and in the titles of many poems thereafter. It is the book's contention that the poet has the right and the authority to deploy the language because he, and his fellow soldiers, has paid for it in blood. Turner was there fighting the war as an infantry team leader with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Iraq. The book does not, however, sufficiently interrogate the weaponization of translation, how the learning of Arabic enabled the American military to invade and conquer. The poem "What Every Soldier Should Know" begins to do so, with its acknowledgement of the Other, the misspelled graffiti sprayed on the overpasses that says, "I will kell you, American." To speak to the Other, to threaten and to kill, one has to speak in the other's tongue. But the poem ends with American fears instead, that the child or woman chatting amiably with you one moment would dance over your corpse in the next. Some poems in this volume are insufficiently transformed from incident and detail. The pressure to record, to memorialize, was simply too strong. Some of the best poems are erotic in their inspiration, when desire is powerfully mixed with fear and hatred, in a power keg.

I deeply admire Glück's refusal to repeat herself. This new volume Faithful and Virtuous Night works with long poems (the title poem is 10 pages long, and gripping), prose poems, a new persona, that of a male painter who was orphaned as a boy when his parents and sister died in a car accident. Romantic medievalism is at stake in the volume: the boy sees his brother, and other redemptive figures, as a a heroic knight, but he is up against Glück's refusal of redemption. We understand this refusal as Glück's, but why is it the boy's, and then the adult painter's? Tragedy and trauma is insufficient to explain it. For me, the persona remains, at the end of the book, a glove puppet. Glorious poems, but also niggling doubt. The opening poem "Parable" is tremendous. It should be read and reread in our era of postmodern dogmatism.

Intellectually challenging, Gregory Pardlo's Digest gives no quarter to the reader not up to scratch on Western philosophy, African American history, and popular culture. The music of the poems very often carries me through seas of incomprehension. It is a wry, knowing, and, yes, tragic voice. The last because it understands the situation of loneliness. Despite family, communal, and intellectual ties, the speaker feels his loneliness in the marrow. He makes me feel again mine.

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