Friday, December 31, 2010

Year-End Top-Five (plus one)

Little as the Pill believes in universal or non-contingent standards of “quality,” this list could not, in good conscience, bear the title “Best of 2010.” Instead, because I like top-five lists, here are my five favorite poetry reads of the past year, with little commentary because it’s hard to type while holding this champagne flute, and with a bonus because I liked six books enough to include here, and with best wishes to poets and their readers for the coming year.

Kathleen Graber, The Eternal City
Smart is so very, very cool.

Anne Carson, Nox
A rare case in which contents matched up to the promise of compelling packaging.

Paul Muldoon, Maggot
I've said before, and I'll say again, how good a poet I think Muldoon is.

Don Paterson, Rain
Renovation of formal conventions on every page.

Derek Walcott, White Egrets
The sonnet has rarely had it so good.

C.D. Wright, One with Others
Simply broke my heart.

Now go buy these up and read.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Brief Tour of The Eternal City

As promised, at long last, a few words about Kathleen Graber’s The Eternal City. The first few of which have to do not with the book itself but with the promising start it gives the re-launched Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. I’m pretty sure I’ve indicated before on this blog my opinion of Paul Muldoon (he’s the shit, Gentle Reader, seriously). As poetry editor of the New Yorker, he makes some choices I just don’t understand, but his choice in this instance – his first as series editor for Princeton – is solid.

Here are a few more words, again not yet about the book itself but about the period style exemplified by some of its poems. You are as familiar as I am with the currently, and for a couple of decades now, popular structure in which an anecdote narrated in first-person is juxtaposed to an event in the life of a figure with world-historical importance. Often the anecdote gets a strophe or verse paragraph, then the juxtaposed figure gets one, and then, in the last, the two are brought together, the relationship of the moments and the persons sometimes made explicit and sometimes left for the reader to understand. Graber’s “The Third Day” works pretty much this way: the speaker locks herself out of her apartment while preoccupied with some current political language and is reminded, as she chats with the neighbor who lends her a key, of St. Augustine’s thoughts on evil. Augustine’s own remembered experience is then recounted, along with his distillation from it of a definition of evil, and then, finally, Augustine is implicitly brought to bear on the speaker’s memories and present experience. As I read “The Third Day,” I recognized the formula, to be sure. This is, after all, a prominent period style. I also recognized, though, and this is part of what makes Graber’s book so impressive, that the fact of the formula does not in any way diminish the depth of insight or the persuasiveness of the portrayals (of the speaker, of the neighbor, of Augustine or a thoughtful reader’s relationship with his thought).

There’s a recipe for poems like this, but there’s a recipe behind my mother’s lasagna too, and I will eat a pan of that stuff any time I can. Because what makes a dish great is the way it at once conforms to and transcends the recipe, and where a lot of the run of this particular mill simply shapes a moment of self-expression, Graber’s poem is working out a problem whose importance lies well beyond the expressed self (which, in her poems, is a vehicle for the problem, rather than, as is so often the case elsewhere, a tenor riding the vehicle like a kid on a stolen moped):

What would we do without our fellows? Adam,
the Saint argues, took the apple even thought he knew
the serpent had deceived her, for he could not bear imagining
Eve lost in the wilderness alone. A small child is beating a tree
with a baseball bat trying to knock more ammunition loose,
& the prickly spheres, which horticulturalists call fruit,
dance & dangle – like the thurible the Monsignor swung
sometimes as mass.

I’m struck by the lamination in this passage of significances established earlier in the poem. The fruit of the tree in Eden and the fruit the kid knocks from the tree are both related to the fruit – unripe, inedible, worthless – Augustine remembers stealing. This is sin. But it’s also community, and as apt a metonym for it as the climatically dissatisfied neighbor lending a key to the apartment complex laundry room in which the speaker has locked her own. If the fruit sought as ammo is “like the thurible,” then it sanctifies the air through which it swings. Like language, sometimes.

Two sequences make up the bulk of this book’s contents, the long title sequence at the heart of the volume and a three-part sequence of “Poems for Walter Benjamin.” The “Eternal City” sequence is presided over by the spirit of Marcus Aurelius, whose meditations provide epigraphs for its twelve “books” and provide the framework through which the speaker works her difficulty with stuff. That last word’s chosen deliberately, Gentle Reader, for what’s juxtaposed to Aurelius’s stoic renunciations of worldly goods and trappings is the all-too-familiar difficulty many of us have letting go of anything. I am giving nothing away, so to speak, by calling your attention to the way the form of the sequence, in which each poem’s last line becomes the first of the next poem, performs precisely this difficulty. More than that, “Book Twelve,” which has confronted the speaker’s mother’s death (and her resignation before it, her act of letting go), ends with an echo of the first line of “Book One” (“From my mother’s sister, Peg, I failed to learn frugality”):

I have failed to learn frugality from a tin of salvaged buttons,
but learned instead collection: horn toggles, bright Bakelite
domes. Nearly countless, the year’s cast of soiled buttons,
as though each had been snipped from the cuff of a saint.

Detritus becomes relic through the manner in which we keep it. This sequence is a great demonstration of that manner, an enactment of the transformation of junk to heirloom.

It’s also, and this is part of what I like about the Benjamin poems, too, evidence that Graber’s not afraid to look like she knows things, that she’s read things. These are smart poems that don’t pretend to be less smart than they are (when did poetry become a place where knowledge, especially knowledge having to do with books, with language, had to be disowned?). Look at the way the intellect dances through experience, allusion, and argument in this passage from the second Benjamin poem, “The Telephone”:

For Benjamin, the technology is heroic.
For it has prevailed, he says, like those unfortunate infants of myth,
who, cast out into the shadowy wilderness of the back halls, surrounded

by bins of soiled linens & gas meters, emerge . . . a consolation for loneliness . . . the light of a last hope. The home’s benevolent king.
In a novel by George Konrád, a man attempts to explain to his daughter

why he has had so many lovers: when the clothes come off, he tells her,
everything is discovered. And, he goes on, it is, in the end, discovery
we want. Though wouldn’t even the most inventive among us find –

after so much disrobing – simply more of what we already know?
Shall I celebrate the counterpoint? The nearly infinite revelatory potential
of a bolt of heavy silk run through the fingers of the able seamstress

or the sensuous curves of the first desktop telephone . . .

We’re still in the land of detritus and relic (here, an Austrian telephone museum), of collection as transformation. But these are the problem with which the verbally manifest mind struggles. On one hand, the old phones are fragments like those Benjamin writes of in “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” bits of wreckage that, if grasped, we can see “shot through with chips of messianic time.” And this particular technology has everything to do with connection (through the switchboard), with communication. On the other hand, another way we attempt connection, if not communication, is fraught with an estranging familiarity (that might be my best phrase for characterizing these poems), a quality Graber herself achieves as she slips, almost unnoticeably, from clothes coming off to discovery (as uncovering), from disrobing to revelation (the moving of the veil, like the shedding of the robe, or is it?), so that we at last see the sexiness of the old phone in a way that holds Benjamin in a sort of suspension and that suggests, against the character in Konrád, the real intimacy in what comes between us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why yes, I think I will have another Cosmopolitan

You see, the thing is, the Pill has had trouble getting around to the prose he’s meant to write for this here review-type blog, the problem being not only that he’s producing a whole lot of other prose for other, less bloggy, purposes (though is he ever), but also that, while he’s been meaning to sit right down and compose a review of Kathleen Graber’s excellent The Eternal City (an intention he continues to hold because that book is good and you should all be told so in no uncertain terms), he just can’t quit going back to Donna Stonecipher.

“No,” I kept telling myself. “This here blog’s supposed to be about new stuff and that there Cosmopolitan book’s a good two years old.”

“But, Self,” it finally occurred to me to reply, “it’s my blog. It can have whatever I want on it.”

And, Gentle Reader, I want some prose about The Cosmopolitan.

This is not to say that I don’t want to write about the poems in Stonecipher’s earlier volumes, The Reservoir and Souvenir de Constantinople, but The Cosmopolitan’s prose poems are the texts that keep drawing me back – to reread, to think about, to copy out in my notebook (there is not much higher praise than that last, I think). Why? Well, because, G.R., they are smart and compelling and memorable. The book’s “Note to the Reader” links the poems to what Stonecipher calls her “generation’s relationship to quotation and collage,” and she name-checks Joseph Cornell along with inlaid furniture as analogies for these poems. The “Note” seems intended to account in this way for the quotations that appear in the poems, but it also suggests both the paratactic relationships among the sentences and numbered sections that make up the poems and the indirect eliciting of an emotional response through correlatives that might be objective but are also redolent of intimate symbolism.

Which is to say, well, here, look at these two consecutive sections of “Inlay 14 (Walter Benjamin)”:

Oh yes, she liked the opera, she said, sure – but only the arias. What would life be like, we wondered under the Prussian-blue dome adorned with stars, with only the best parts left in – aria after aria? In 1874, the book said, a Danish mathematician proved that not all infinities are of equal size.

The relics are safe in their gold reliquaries. The roses in the botanical drawings aren’t going anywhere, exposed and in the throes of cross-section like beauty submitting to the torture it does call forth of its own accord. Nor is the bee going to get very far, dead on the edge of the windowsill like a spent hedonist.

Set aside the “Prussian-blue” of the dome (not because it isn’t lovely, but just because it’s the most obviously Cornellian touch) and see how the carefully selected bits are juxtaposed. What, on the surface, does the proof of unequal infinities have to do with opera composed only of arias, life composed only of heights? Nothing. But each of these calls out from the other a sympathetic resonance. Intensity of experience or emotion feels as though it opens onto infinity; the stars in that dome represent massive fireballs whose distant light lasts effectively forever. At the same time, though, cue Cornell, the blue of the dome is perhaps the standout fragment in the section, and what it emphasizes is the inarticulable loveliness of the spaces between, spaces much vaster than the stars themselves, dwarfing both astronomical dwarves and giants. Not all infinities are of equal size.

Now look at the three examples of containment in the next section. They build, from precious objects in their cases to objects fixed in representation to the stillness of death (itself figured as the exhaustion of pleasure). The continuity within the section is discernible, but what’s it got to do with those infinities? Well, everything, we sense from the shimmer set off by their proximity. The infinity of death, the infinity of art, the infinity of holiness; all infinite, but unequal.

The whole poem works through these processes of association, indirect affinity, the occasional suggestion of narrative. It also (like the other poems, like the volume as a whole) sketches a city, traverses that space, invokes the spirit of the writer whose quotation is “inlaid” in the poem, and follows the titular “Cosmopolitan” through adventures of body, mind, and spirit.

I’ve been trying for months now to get over this book (another great one brought to you by the fine folks at Coffee House, by the way), to get on to newer and more current or more pressing things. I can’t. And it’s Donna Stonecipher’s fault.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Now That's What I'm Talking About

So here I was all set to start a post about the exhaustion, enervation, etc., of the confessional tradition and a recommendation that poets declare a moratorium on use of the first-person singular pronoun, when over the transom drops Lisa Robertson’s new volume, R’s Boat. Gentle Reader, this book saves the first-person singular pronoun for contemporary lyric poetry. How, you ask? Why, I say, let me paraphrase T.S. Eliot’s characterization of the Tube commuters in the third part of "Burnt Norton": exhausted from exhaustion by exhaustion.

Which is to say that Robertson renders the “I” without any discernible confessional content by repeating it as the subject of sentence after sentence whose existence seems predicated less on a speaking self than on a sort of emanation from the rules of transformational grammar:

I’m talking about weird morphing catalogues and fugitive glances.
I could have been wrong.
I subsist by these glances.
I desire nothing humble or abridged.
I’m using the words of humans to say what I want to know.
I did not sigh.
I confined my thievery to perishable items.
I do not want to speak partially.
I loosened across landscape.
I doubt that I am original.
I’ve been lucky and I’m thankful.
I dreamt I lied.
I stole butter and I studied love.

Now, some of the interesting work here is done by the simple anaphora; repeating that diphthong over and over at the beginnings of lines makes it just another phoneme rather than the locus of identity or affect. But this is enhanced by the (mostly) paratactic relation among the lines/sentences; absent narrative or logical conjunctions, they could all be spoken by different speakers (the alternation of Roman and italic type suggests at last two), but the notion of “speakers” itself seems not quite right. Instead, the lines might simply show how sentences are formed of subjects and predicates. Our attention is shifted from expectations of confessional revelation or narrative resolution to an almost musical play of “themes” embedded in the predicates’ diction and the ghost of allusion. While the “fugitive glances” are picked up in “these glances,” most of the lines in either typeface lack this kind of linkage. Instead, we can focus on other ways the lines might connect. For example, the italicized sentences here tend towards negation and a lack of efficacy; the Roman lines emphasize positive agency. These themes are developed by the typographically marked “voices” throughout the poem (certain sentences recur from time to time, switching from Roman to italics and back), and, along with the background harmonies of sound repetition, they achieve a disembodied emotional intensity. Or not quite disembodied, because Robertson sneaks the heart in (“Here I make delicate reference to the Italian goddess Cardea who shuts what is open and opens what is shut”). Like the resolution in the tonic after a spirited spell of dissonance, the emotional tension satisfyingly climaxes when the voices synch up:

I made my way to London.
I made my way to London.

Robertson’s practice here reminds us that “text” comes from the craft of weaving. She shows the threads of certain sentences against a variety of other threads, so that small irregularities of weight or color are discernible, so that the different ways a thread can look are displayed and explored. The poem enacts emotion arising from language and the grammatical relation among parts of speech as much as it describes emotion arising from interpersonal drama and the frustration of desire, so when we get to “This is emotional truth. / I’m crying love me more.” our sympathy has been earned by not being asked for. “Such,” Robertson writes at the end of this poem, “is passivity. / I will not remember, only transcribe.” And that’s ambition enough.

Not all the poems in R’s Boat work in exactly the same way. All are longish (they run from six or seven to twelve or so pages), and all explore the construction of self and world in language. Some, though, perform reference and description, suggest narrative and action, more than others do. “A Cuff,” which originally appeared as a chapbook, achieves its effects of estrangement by mingling argumentative and descriptive registers. Here’s an early example of the latter:

The room runs to swags
And popular flower pornography
The house amplifies the trembling as if its inhabitants are lodged in an ear
To make something from what I am
From proximity, bitterness
Is just brutal
So I turned to syllables

The last three lines there put as effectively as it can be put the agony of the poem as expression of self and the ecstasy of the poem as experience of language. And here’s a nice bit of the argumentative:

If females lick
Language, death, economy
Cold sky with flat grey stormclouds
The seaport at sunset
Tubes of yellow light
This suture is a form of will
Furthermore the paradise is only ever indexical.

Proper nouns appear from time to time; cities and philosophers and artists are named. A couple of dates and times are given, though they only pretend to locate us in a world outside the text. Logical constructions give way to and then co-exist with details that might, but don't necessarily, point to a space beyond the page . And still, when Robertson writes “Now we run our fingers / Quick and innocuous / In the proper order and sequence and from the beginning,” I hear keyboards of both typewriting and musical kinds and sense, too, something (perhaps simply the lingering notion of reference) being tickled. The grammar of this sentence’s end -- “Because of my body / In the absence of a system / (It is both in ruins and still under construction)” – leaves it productively unclear whether the antecedent of the last line’s pronoun is “body” or “system.” Productively, because it’s good to be reminded, especially to be so hauntingly and musically and provocatively reminded, that even our bodies we know through codes and combinatorics. We come to our senses, or perhaps our senses come to us, through syntax.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Full Irish

The Pill is back from two busy and pleasurable weeks in Ireland and glad to see that you’ve all entertained yourselves and each other in the comments. Truly glad, because it is, I think, a GOOD THING when people vigorously air their disagreements and debate issues of aesthetics, ethics, politics, etc. I especially value some of the substantial comments that take issue with my arguments and analyses; these will send me back to the poems to see whether, in the different light cast by the critiques, the poems themselves look different. For those comments, thank you. This is how the language game of critique is supposed to work, isn’t it? I report on the nature of my experience of the work. Your experience is like or not like mine and you say so and describe your own. Might mine be misguided somehow? Maybe. So I test my experience against your account of yours. And so on. To forcefully articulate a position but to hold the position aware that it is not unassailable is, it seems to me, one of the prerequisites of evaluative criticism. I don’t assume that my judgment (that’s all criticism is) is infallible. This is not, of course, to guarantee that a strong counter-argument will persuade me, any more than I assume that my arguments will change anybody else’s mind. I’ve got some ideas of my own about irony and immanent evidence for tone and the renovation (as opposed to the mere repetition) of cliche, after all. I’m just glad we’re talking about this stuff, and at a pretty high volume (in both senses).

I’ve titled this post “Full Irish” in honor of the breakfast that bears this name, which, for the uninitiated, typically includes egg, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, beans, black and white puddings, whiskey, choice of Hansel or Gretel, grilled tomato, toast, tea, and Pepto Bismol. Herewith, some similarly smorgasbordish thoughts inspired by the trip.

In Dublin’s fair city, I took in some Joyce-related sights and was prompted to recall that moment in “The Dead” when Gabriel Conroy is accosted by Miss Ivors. “You’re G.C.,” she says, “outing” him as the author of a book review he published over his initials. This was a gratifying reminder that to publish a review over one’s initials is neither anonymous nor trollish, but is, in fact, simply adherence to a long-standing convention in reviewing, one dating back to the invention of the review in the new periodicals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And then, feeling peckish, your faithful correspondent lunched upon a Gorgonzola sandwich and retired to Davy Byrne’s for a one-eyed pint.

As I was driving westward a few days later, two texts kept repeating in my head. Each, in its way, recalls the Famine that devastated the island, and especially the less fertile western areas, in the 1840s. In “That the Science of Cartography Is Limited,” Eavan Boland frames an image of the Famine’s traumatic presence in Irish history with autobiographical intimacy:

When you and I were first in love we drove
to the borders of Connacht
and entered a wood there.

Look down you said: this was once a famine road.

I looked down at the ivy and the scutch grass
rough-cast stone had
disappeared into as you told me
in the second winter of their ordeal, in

1847, when the crop had failed twice,
Relief Committees gave
the starving Irish such roads to build.

The juxtaposition of young lovers and the wound in the land works here, I think, because it’s in the service of exploring the ineffable. Our representational schemes simply don’t enable us to capture or render certain realities. While it’s not the poem’s primary focus, an important reality it registers is the way love is constructed in part by the shared witness of historical suffering (it’s a weird, but apt, kind of courting that the poem recounts but also subtly suggests tends to be missing from our accounts). In Lucky’s amazing speech in Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett literalizes and inverts Hegel’s master and slave relationship as if to ask what love’s got to do with it and to emphasize a starkly chilling and historically resonant memento mori:

. . . I resume the skull fading fading fading and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labors abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara . . .

Wildly different, not least in their original languages, these passages share not only the Famine as a reference point but also evidence of rigorous thought about the ways that event’s significance figures in the presents of Ireland in the 1990s and Paris in the first postwar decade.

I’ve had good times in Galway in the past, standing in a crowded pub, sipping a pint, listening to a half-dozen musicians playing trad in the corner. What’s most impressive about some of those performances is that the musicians don’t seem to care whether anyone’s listening (and not everyone is). Their attention is on the music, and they seem to be moved by a sense of responsibility to it rather than to the pub full of people. They’ll test each other’s knowledge and, sometimes, the punters’ patience, with esoteric choices and unexpected juxtapositions. This time, though, the center of the city seemed like a sort of Disneyland Ireland, and it was packed with tourists whose guidebooks had clearly told them they should seek out music pubs for some good, old-fashioned craic, and the pubs had drawn musicians happy to turn their backs to the tradition and mug for the crowd. The tourists ate this stuff up, of course. Maybe the musicians went home and congratulated themselves on the way they ironically riffed on the tourists’ desires for accessibly happy or sappy songs performed in broad stage-Paddy stylings. I’d like to think so. But whether they did or not, the experience of watching and hearing them seem simply to perform accessibly happy and sappy songs in broad stage-Paddy stylings left this listener, who loves and values the carefully crafted, expertly innovated, real thing, disappointed.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Poets Per Capita

Are there more poets per capita in Northern Ireland than in most other places? I'm not sure. But the density of quality poetry produced here is impressive, to say the least. Sure, there are the Ulster Renaissance types everybody knows: Heaney, Longley, Mahon, Muldoon, McGuckian. But also an older generation or two who ought to have a wider readership. John Hewitt, for instance, whose house I passed on the way from Dublin to Belfast today. Or Louis MacNeice, for whose "Snow" alone he ought to be more famous (and whose Autumn Journal is one of my favorite poems of the late 1930s). But MacNeice said awful things about Ireland, and I'm having a good time here, so instead I'll give you a sample of Ciaran Carson (whose middle name I would tell you if I knew it, but, alas, I do not), and since I'm about to go enjoy a pint at the Crown, here's a pub poem:

Last Orders

Squeeze the buzzer on the steel mesh gate like a trigger, but
It's someone else who has you in their sights. Click. It opens.
Like electronic
Russian roulette, since you never know for sure who's who, or what
You're walking into. I, for instance, could be anybody. Though I'm told
Taig's written on my face. See me, and would I trust appearances?

Inside, a sudden lull. The barman lolls his head at us. We order Harp --
Seems safe enough, everybody drinks it. As someone looks
daggers at us
From the Bushmills mirror, a penny drops: how simple it would
be for someone
Like ourselves to walk in and blow the whole place, and
ourselves, to Kingdom Come.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Worst. Book. Ever.

The Pill is, as a rule, averse to superlatives. I have, when pressed, been heard to aver that Ardbeg is the best single malt Scotch whisky and that British Air is the worst airline on which to fly to or from London, but that’s about it. So it is with some hesitation that I tell you that Dorothea Lasky’s Black Life is the worst volume of poetry I have ever read, but tell you that I will. And Gentle Reader, I have read this.

It’s an ugly book, and I don’t just mean the awful and illegible cover, the bizarre trim size or the off-putting Quemadura typeface (though those are all bad enough). I mean the poems themselves.

I’ll get to the ugliness. But first I’ve got to admit to some simple confusion. Are these poems dramatic monologues, with speakers distinct from the poet? I kept hoping so, especially when I came upon a solecism like this (from “Fat”):

I have wandered for six days with no bread, drank lemon water
Went running.

This, my fellow lovers of the language, is incorrect tense usage; the sentence begins with the past participle form of the verb (“have wandered”) but slips, after the comma, to the simple past (keep the "have" in your head when you get to "drank" and you'll hear the problem). A deft and economical way of characterizing a speaker, suggesting sloppiness of thought through intentional sloppiness of language? A moment in which we are subtly invited to join the poet in her ironic distance from this linguistically slovenly speaker? Would that it were so. The same poem includes banal lines about writing poems:

I have written poems about the flesh of scientists
But nothing in their science speaks to me about my art.

Oh dear. But wait. It's worse. Examples abound. Here’s another, from “Ars Poetica”:

Yesterday my boyfriend called me, drunk again
And interspersed between ringing tears and clinginess
He screamed at me with a kind of bitterness
No other human being had before to my ears
And told me that I was no good.

Perhaps he meant her grammar, for the “interspersed” in the second line suggests that what we’ll find between the tears and, ahem, "clinginess" is a noun, not the verb phrase “He screamed.” Something, rather than some action, is interspersed between (or, better, among) other things.

Pedantry? OK. I’ll accept that. But Ezra Pound, who was woefully wrong about many things, was right, I think, when he wrote that poetry should be as well written as well-written prose, and these here Black Life poems are emphatically not.

What they are is chopped-up bad prose about how hard it is to be the poet (and these poems never, ever let the reader forget that they were written by a real, live poet):

I am a great woman, I have the wiles
That make the poet
But I am also gentle
And when I kiss a man I really mean it
Have you felt this too, upon my kisses
That I gave you in the nightsky
As your eyelashes hung over the moon?
Or were you too young to see it too,
My little feverish butterfly

Oh, the cheap cummingsy runtogetherness! Oh the sappy Chagallery! Oh the missing terminal punctuation! Oh, the humanity!

One is embarrassed for Lasky at a moment like this. Or like this here other one, from “Jakob”:

Readers, you read flat words
Inside here are many moments
In which I have screamed in pain
As the flames ate me.

One's critical response is reduced by such lines as these to the head-shaking repetition of "Oh dear." But, OK, these are just run-of-the-mill bad, the sort of awful self-obsessed, craftless crap that smears a thousand workshop tables in creative writing classrooms and MFA programs around the country (and soils, one admits, far more notebooks whose sophomore owners have the decency to keep them out of sight and, perhaps, when the writers come to cast mature eyes on their late-night, wine-fueled drivel, consign them to the cleansing flames). I got halfway through the book just irritated by the fact that this stuff got slapped between those ugly covers instead of being sanitarily flushed.

And then I read “Ever Read a Book Called Awe?”

[Gentle Reader, this humble blogger pauses now to ask you to recognize that, though the following might at first blush feel intemperate, great restraint in fact was brought to bear in the composition and revision of these sentences.]

It's bad enough that we're treated to the navel-gazing bout of self-absorption in which the poet asks if we've read her previous book, in which she goes on to describe, in a sickening faux-naif tone, the publication process, and that this wince-inducing anecdote is made somehow to stand for love as it's juxtaposed to "Some people I love / Don't love me." (Yeah, I threw up in my mouth a little there, too.) What transforms icky to full-on revolting is the next juxtaposition. Sometimes, you see, people love the speaker (I'm going to retain this persona/poet distinction, though there's precious little evidence to support it), and, as the poem has it, "That's good," and then the Big and Important Generalizations appear:

When you sit in a landscape of snow
And you're a bird, that's Awe
When you look over a big green field
And the dead soldiers like all around you, that's Love

And when you shift from your navel and your precious little undeserved career to the Capital-H History figured by those dead soldiers, whose vintage, by way of that "Awe," seems to be in the 2003-present category, that's stealing some unearned gravitas from the fatigue pockets of casualties like a camp follower grabbing wallets. And it's disgusting.

Bad poems, Gentle Reader, are bad enough. This book is worse. It's ugly.