RAPID TRANSITby Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
Feeling for the Ground
Rolling like a column of cabooses packed with ghosts, Tom Clark approaches the terminus in this latest work. Awarded a Fulbright when he was 22, Clark was instrumental in exposing America’s avant poets when he became an editor at the Paris Review almost half a century ago.
Now, shrouded in time, solemnity tolls throughout these melancholy poems. Neither futuristic nor retro, they engage the process, building solidly on tradition. Updating a pastoral or focusing on phantom fugues of the mind, Clark intractably suspends moments. Aloof and seductively resigned, his economy and compression convey gravitas.
Some poems could’ve been written a hundred or even a thousand years ago. “Black cars throb...” is a dead-on echo of Pound’s “black bough,” honoring the dictum: “Make it new.” Solitude is wooed and gives up its secrets. Memory and dissolution parry while slippery apparitions vanish even as they are vanquished.
Several prose poems explore situations via an omniscient narrator. A nebulous Facebook junkie allows “herself to drift and float.” A man obsesses over “a character we shall call N.” Clark’s limpid style is better used in the shorter, lyric works.
His great, observational poems like “Hard Freeze” ring with formal flint. You’ll savor the spark from each word, slowly tonguing the texture and line breaks. If you’re looking for a place to “build your birdnest of dreams” Clark has blazed unmistakably amazing territory.
The Eternal City
(Princeton University Press, 2010)
Secretary of unwhispered announcements, Kathleen Graber traces the outlines of meaning with a sure, deliberate hand. Her engaging ruminations merge forms: diary, letter, and essay. In this second collection, she extends her reputation as a poet of “beauty and deeply felt intelligence.”
Graber holds the hammer of time at both ends, beating out ideas into images and conversely, images into ideas. History and memory course through the pages, reintegrated into the present by insightful observations.
In “Another Poem About Trains,” she addresses the reader, “Ah, Weary Traveler,” who is “disappearing…back into nowhere.” How delicious it is, that sense of relinquishing the moment to capture it.
Graber’s metaphors ring out. “My thoughts clang like pennies in the drier.” And it is her amalgam of thoughts and their seamless arrangement into luminous passages that astounds.
In the title poem, Graber finds purpose in earth and flesh even as she becomes a medium for a long-gone savant. Beginning each section with a quote from Marcus Aurelius, the poems conflate high discourse with common acts and heirlooms. Boxes of shells lead to revelations by Descartes and Christopher Wren. The reader is never stranded, but rather appreciates the circuitous information as much as the scene.
An indolent daddy long legs “goes on not doing what it’s doing.” Bliss is stillness. “Loneliness, the one defendable empire,” never looked better.
Tourist at a Miracle
(Hanging Loose Press, 2010)
Boiled down pendants of truth serum dangle invitingly before us. Spare and grounded, Mark Statman’s poems map flatness to plumb depth. His conversational tone is leavened and evened out to a point of expansive wonder.
Like the tourist in the title, Statman is on a pilgrimage. He is visiting moments and fixing them in his mind. Carefully editing events and details, he presents a clear picture. “Tubing” and “Fly Fishing” are on facing pages.
Each poem begins with an anchoring title but proceeds to float. In “A Hundred,” the list begins with “a hundred women, a hundred men.” Soon the focus shifts from “a hundred cars” to their “drivers not even paying attention.” Statman inevitably evokes that lift-off place.
“Snow and ice,” “Late Afternoon,” and “City Summers,” are captured in broad, spare lines. No similes or metaphors drag on the body of the poem, except for those occurring entropically. “A seatbelt” keeping him from his honey, is a “stupid metaphor / and you’ve been stupid,” he confesses in the third person.
In the vein of fellow Brooklynites Walt Whitman and Bob Hershon, Statman assiduously collates images and idioms. Riding the subway he’s “looking, watching, spying / on every conversation.” That keenness is revealing and ultimately, understanding.
“Traveler” tracks down an elusive, momentary absence of awareness induced by an “American Redstart.” It is transcendent. No small miracle here.
ContributorJeffrey Cyphers Wright