Saturday, August 11, 2007

"...a northern train/ yowling outbound."

Good collections of poetry seem as rare as collections of poetry are abundant. I don't expect to find them, though I'm always looking. It’s a relief to be surprised by something new and worthwhile. You can get in a dismissive habit, then turn into someone else. This week the winning book from last year’s May Swenson Poetry Award Series arrived in our post office box (no home delivery in Idyllwild, so we unlock P.O. Box 270 every day, a shadowy chamber through which you can see the fluorescent mail-sorting room. Those big tables.), and this slim volume tumbled out. It's Neck of the World, by F. Daniel Rzicznek, and was chosen by Alice Quinn, published by the Utah State University Press. The book was in danger of traveling straight from envelope to the windowledge of the post office, where people sometimes leave things they don’t want but would be ashamed to throw away. But a few lines caught my attention, and the book held it through the afternoon. The experience was like discovering an old book by a current favorite, except this is Rzicznek’s first book, and he’s younger than me, so this is what we have. I hope there’s more to come. The book has captivated me. Everything’s here! A rich language, a commanding style, a vulnerable tone, ideas that develop, and hardy verbs. Let me try again, because that sounds dry and dull and competent: a wilderness seen through the most recent binoculars. There are echoes of other poets here, James Wright and Wallace Stevens and Philip Larkin in particular, but they echo through most contemporary poetry. In these quiet lines and orderly stanzas there's something new and daring, yet encouragingly familiar. Jonathan Holden writes about William Stafford's gift to "not embarass the reader with his genius," and there's a bit of that courteous genius here. Oh, I’ll just put a few stanzas here so you can judge for yourself:

from “A Mouthful of Crickets”

The cavern purges its hollow ice,

a quivering tonsil. Sickles of tar

scan every river of the lips

and it’s this thousandth elsewhere,

these well-to-do’s, dear. Close up.

Something gleams when you speak.

from "A Bear and His Madness"
There’s a burnished violence

ignorant in the leaves,

gilded to the hillside where I sit.

The land has begun holding me

trial for the murder of a sapling

tall as my smallest finger, its leaves

two spots of fire beneath my boot.

The air whirs a mouth foreign

like the speech of far-off bells

in the dark borough of my ear…


bigscarygiraffe said...

First, this scares me almost as much as the Bourne Ultimatum and for surprisingly similar reasons: "Good collections of poetry seem as rare as collections of poetry are abundant." I think I agree for contemporary poetry, but then again, I have too much hope. Have you ever accidentally put Richard Siken's "Crush" on the mailroom shelf? He was a recent (2001?) Yale Series of Younger Poets prize winner and just barely cleared under the too-old requirement. Kind of racy and kind of delightful stuff happening there. To my knowledge, he hasn't published anything since, and I blame him for ruining the entire contemporary poetry movement. Not really, but I do believe hoarding-unpublishing-ungodlyafraid poets are holding this entire operation up.

By the way, there is no second point; I am one of those poets.

ed said...

No, no. Siken's "Crush" has an honored place on the bookshelf. It's a fine book. It's still a new book, to me--he doesn't need to put another one out for a long time, esp. if he keeps up his blog with his carazy paintings, which are often save as my background image.

I agree that the operation is being held up.

There's good stuff afoot, though. Ted Genoway's new VQR Series at University of Georgia is opening up some new channels.

bigscarygiraffe said...

Siken? Blog? I've avoided the entire blogosphere for a very important reason, but since I can't stop now, I might as well keep going. What's the web address?

Also, I agree heartily about Mr. Genoways.

ed said...

Richard Siken's site:

Well, blogs. The word is funny, but the medium is I think -- like this! -- at least as useful as CB radio, for which bigscarygiraffe would have been a good handle.

Ten four.


jrlennon said...

I like those pictures quite a bit.