Monday, May 31, 2010

Richard Sanger's SHADOW CABINET

I enjoyed Richard Sanger's first collection of poems, Shadow Cabinet, for several reasons. Many one- or two-pagers concentrate on people -- their feelings, thoughts, reactions -- without using them as background props to (said in a hushed, reverent tone) nature, and, indeed, without feeling the need to bring in environmental imagery at all. (There's one remarkable exception, and for an intelligent purpose, but I'll let readers not familiar with the book discover the surprise themselves.) This is a refreshing departure in a contemporary po-world where nature has barged its way into the cathedral again (minus the Romantic counterbalance and metaphorical shading of human complexity) and the priest(ess) is paid a resurgent respect or, at the very least, allowed a benign acceptance. I also enjoyed Sanger's affecting trick of juxtaposing personal experience with historical snapshots in humorous structuring, as in "Travels With My Aunt". And, last but not least, I enjoyed how Sanger was able to bring that historical detail into the readerly living room with fresh diction and lively characterization. There's plenty of room for mixed sympathy; the figures speak, or are spoken for, but the reader is left to form his or her own conclusions.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

James Langer's GUN DOGS

Gun Dogs is Maritimer James Langer's first collection of poems. More seasoned than many millwright authors of seven productions, the volume (not in a malnourished sense) is slim and tight. "Bushcraft" is a dangerous journey with a surprising conclusion; "Home Suite" is a richly observed meditation on mutability and solidity, then and now, and avoids mawkish sentiment, no easy task on this overcrowded thematic path. Pleasant, tumbling sounds proliferate: from "Treble Hook", "A brazen fowl sets the third claw of its call/in the sun's jaws and hoists dawn/up over the gunwale." So far, so good. But after closely reading and rereading half the book, a nagging question formulated itself against the chiming morphemes. Where's the voice? I don't mean an original voice, a distinctive one, but just a recognizable vocal stamp. Without that -- and I couldn't hear it -- all the work, however technically efficient or musically adroit, couldn't make up for an idiosyncratic style, an off-the-rails slant, a vision (voice and vision are intimately connected) which goes beyond tied-off summation of quotidian observation, however truthfully it's rendered. Admittedly, questions of voice in poetry become highly subjective, often matters of taste and historical or emotional association. But no matter the subject or narrative heat, the tone in Gun Dogs is uniformly subdued, even where surface dynamics are altered. It's been stated by many veteran poets that a personal voice -- powerful yet flexible -- is the most difficult hurdle to clear. The late centenarian Stanley Kunitz said that crafts(wo)men were a dime a dozen. That's unfairly extreme, but it reminds me of afficionados, both lyric and post-postmodern, who go to an allied extreme in seeing every praised effect as indicative of a specific ideology or school. There are many very good, lasting poets who lack the je ne sais quoi of individual thrill and felicity. The more poetry I read, the more I see it in a vertical pulse, rather than in an associative nod.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gun Dogs, and highly recommend it. I just don't know if I'll be as happy to pick it up for a fifth reading two years hence.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Contest Results

I would have liked to have sent out the prize of a purchase, but the only entry was from a Chinese character spammer, and I feel no compunction in spoiling that attempt. I warned you about that enviro-diet book review, but, on second and third thought, feel in tune with switching course and laying down a whack of mini-reviews I've had in the hopper the past two months. But first ....

Here're the answers, for anyone curious about matches (from the last post):

a) 19. From "Another visit to the Oracle"

b) 24. From "Cain"

c) 6. From "The Faerie Queene"

d) 15. From one of his poems, ha!

e) 22. From "Dead lakes"

f) 2. From The Hobbit

g) 21. From King John

h) 14. From Playboy Of The Western World

i) 11. From A Handful Of Dust

j) 23. From The Tree Of Yoga

k) 12. From Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

l) 3. From "Grey Eyes"

m) 17. From "[37]"

n) 13. From "Untitled" from The Energy Of Slaves

0) 5. From "XIII" from Trilce

p) 4. From "Spring"

q) 18. From "Nevertheless"

r) 25. From "Skunk Hour"

s) 8. From "45" from "Caelica"

t) 16. From G.

u) 7. From "Spring" (Not an alternate version of Moore's poem.)

v) 1. From "Nocturne"

w) 10. From "July Man"

x) 26. From "Down, Wanton, Down!"

y) 20. From "Lady Lazarus"

z) 9. From "Reality"

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Mailbag #15

Dear Tribal Hack:

How come you never give out prizes on your blog? No one cares about opinions, we just want the comp.

-- Okra Winfree

Dear Okra:

True. True. The first person to match all 26 authors with the correct quotes (number to letter is easiest to transmit as an answer) wins a sale of one of his or her books, to me, which I'd (eventually) blog-review (oh joy!). Contest closes next Monday at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time. If no one hits all 26 matches correctly, purchase-prize goes to the highest total. Anyone can enter. If the winner hasn't written a book, I'll post (and link, if applicable) to a poem of his or her choice, written by either that person or any other. No skill-testing questions necessary regarding what components make up kryptonite or who (other than Jimmy Hoffa) got swallowed up in the Bermuda Triangle. Multiple entries not allowed. Nor are hints entertained. Submit responses either in the comments section, or by back-channel mail. Winners not eligible for any additional prizes, e.g. subsidies, grants, job blurbs, book blurbs, character assessment, pre-burial beatification, or testimonials of any kind. No additonal prizes or perks to be granted. Bribing encouraged, though the site manager reserves the right to snigger uncontrollably at the presumption. In the event that the correct answer is submitted through private correspondence, and a later correct answer shows up on my unmoderated blog comment stream, the Ashton Kutcher (sp?) type readership numbers agree to accept my honesty in the early, unrevealed-by-verified-time revelation. This contest is open to all and sundry, and in no way discriminates between poetic schools, rivalries, utopian halls, seminar groups, or personality quirks and deficits.

a) Margaret Atwood

b) Irving Layton

c) Edmund Spenser

d) Raymond Souster

e) Miriam Waddington

f) J R R Tolkien

g) William Skakespeare

h) J M Synge

i) Evelyn Waugh

j) B K S Iyengar

k) Tennessee Williams

l) Sara Teasdale

m) Catullus

n) Leonard Cohen

0) Cesar Vallejo

p) Edna St Vincent Millay

q) Marianne Moore

r) Robert Lowell

s) Fulke Greville

t) John Berger

u) Gerardo Diego

v) Georg Trakl

w) Margaret Avison

x) Robert Graves

y) Sylvia Plath

z) Dorothy Livesay


1) "The murderer drinks his wine wide-eyed"

2) "Well, are you alive or are you dead?"

3) "It was April when you came/the first time to me"

4) "To what purpose, April, do you return again?"

5) "Rednuhtetum!"

6) "Then woe, and woe, and everlasting woe"

7) "My life is a lemon/but my song is not yellow"

8) "Absence, the noble truce/Of Cupid's war,"

9) "Encased in the hard, bright shell of my dream"

10) "Old, rain-wrinkled, time-soiled, city-wise, morning man"

11) "Tony's as happy as a sandboy, isn't he?"

12) "Both of us married into society, Big Daddy"

13) "I walk through the old yellow sunlight"

14) "You'd do it handy, maybe, if I'd gold to steal"

15) " 'Mac went for a shit"

16) "You use the future to console yourself for the youth you never had"

17) "Your numbers, a hundred or so,/leave me undaunted"

18) "As carrots form mandrakes"

19) "Of course there's hope"

20) "Ash, ash -- /You poke and stir"

21) "Put a little water in a spoon"

22) "The dead lakes"

23) "If a person goes into a swoon, is that samadhi?"

24) "Taking the air rifle from my son's hand,"

25) "Thirsting for/the hierarchic privacy"

26) "Down, wanton, down! Have you no shame"


edit: Silly me. Of course, in the interest of transparency, all answers must be submitted through the comments stream. In the event of a tie, first response wins. In the event that no answers are submitted, I'll instead buy and review a copy of "The Ectoplasm Diet For The Post-Green Revolution" by Rance & Sid Pistil.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Mailbag #14

Dear Tribal Hack:

Looking at all the poems I've composed over the last three years, I see a loose-jointed lawn dart tournament theme running through it, needing an injection of corticosteroids to reduce the hyperbolic swelling of intense competitiveness and bizarre pageantry. I'm thinking of sending most of them out to beleaguered editors, but is there a need for yet another poem about the spiritual benefits of fresh air and the beauty of the arcing steel arrow?

-- Mark Dotty

Dear Mark:

There are many ways you can present this to your editors without them gently placing your efforts in the circular file. Think of the obvious arrow metaphor. (Do you play in a league? And is it co-ed?) These days, there seem to be a renewed interest in poems which show a technical expertise in the subject they're relating, similar to what novelists have often concerned themselves with. Are you up on the particulars of lawn dart composition, the history of lawn dart champions and championship matches, the scandals and back room shenanigans? But most of all, can you write a poignant line such as the following, contained in the immortal lawn dart poem by Randy Shakespeare?: "the quiver plunge breasts the sparse dew". Good luck!