Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
A balance between breeziness and brazenness keeps these poems edgy as Maureen McLane transforms landscape into “inscape.” Searching for resolution in isolation, she inhabits a “loafing groove.” She turns stints at literary retreats like Yaddo and McDowell into stylish transcriptions of rain symphonies. Idleness, pleasure, and leisure are deemed pre-requisites for finding enough space to faithfully measure the world, which she does.
Repetitive and reductive, she parses the weather and seasons to instill beauty and insight. Natural symmetries combine with dancing cadences: “Rose red rose the moon / rose low in the east.” Rhymes become trail markers. Words lead to words: “the language bore me along.” “Heedless” leads to “heedful”; “best” to “beset.”
A pervasive sense of wonder struggles with uneasy ease. Admiration is tempered with indictment. “Douce Dame,” a poem about slavery, ends wearily with “we’ve been here too long.”
“Spring Daybook” paints an affectionate portrait of Paris. The poet is engaged as she ranges from critiquing takeout food in a “perfect comparative mode” to sublimely describing tulips. “The wrought scrolls” of window boxes become metaphors for her writing.
In punchy, unpunctuated bursts, the poem builds to a climax of self-recognition where “the gods guiding and guarding the bridge let us move to the light.”
Trusting her senses, McLane creates a “transcendental palette.” Focused and fluid, she generously generates “new forms / for the free.”
The Dream Detective
Straw Gate Books, 2009
Lightning-tongued word twister, David Mills is, hood coming soon you to a neighbor near. If you catch my (d)riff, “wasungo” lovers. Swahili, Quechua, and English mingle as the past infiltrates the present in impeccable peccadilloes.
A true Dream Detective, Mills is on the right(eous) track. From slave ports and jails in Africa to the mystic mountain shrines of Peru, geography and history swap spit with the corporeal. He pens places with cinematic splendor. We begin by polishing dreams in Hanan Pacha and end up dancing with the “Tidy Bowl Man” in “Dear Diarrhea,” a tribute to Montezuma (’s Revenge).
Scatological, caustic, and sassy, the hits keep coming as he skewers injustice and pretension. Zeroing in on a subject, he lets his brand of recalibration loose. As words buzz around the (pre)-text, you always recognize the target.
Ghosts and lovers coexist in Mills’s relentless language barrages. Sex is celebrated in disheveled lines like “Your blonde grotto’s flutter gush and tremble.”
An elegiac tone plays counter to cunning linguistics. Family and friends are dealt tender hands. “Eyes Skating” is a potent portrait of a “chocolate Adonis” who “makes the freezing weep.” A consummate poet, Mills knows his topic and touts terms like Biellmann and triple axel. A figure eight is “infinity / standing up for itself.”
Infinity should stand up for Mills too. Innovative and accessible, he’s endlessly amazing.
Ahsahta Press, 2010
"Bruised” narratives and corrupted syntax mark this experimental work by Sandra Doller. Tense shifts, confusion between the plural and the singular, verb-adjective pairings (“she’ll operatic”), and collaging techniques (including shredded word-strings that achieve kinesis) propel these 35 poems.
In “Severe Yellow Line,” clothes, colors, music, and time swirl. Doller reorders the logic of language. “Does this body know you how to.” With a nod to the deconstructive strategies of the late Leslie Scalapino, Doller interrupts her train of thought to admit traffic and weather while circling the body (of the poem).
The book cover shows “Chora” in a prim bonnet, ear to the ground. Four prose poems for her are set at Quaker meetings. Doller invokes invocation, intoning with atypical (for her) grammatical correctness: “We now address ourselves, a sermon on the self-portrait.”
A poet must listen closely and be able to read signs. Doller chooses some potent signifiers in her litany-ensembles. She examines the center and the edges, and wants to “read the spine…split up by color offside’s.”
Rhythmic texture ferries us along, generating infectious allure. Sparse humor is welcome and real: “the earl of up-to-something.” Surreal lyricism is equally welcome: “hard sob of grass.”
Reading these excursive poems is “like traveling together.” In the recesses of a gutted, ripped out style, Doller’s persona cruises. She knows, “What you bring forth will save you.”
ContributorJeffrey Cyphers Wright