Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Donald Revell's Arcady has a New England/Old Testament/Puritan feel, in spite of its pagan title, the profusion of poems named for pre-Socratic philosophers, and the poet's residence in Las Vegas. I've often felt that way about Revell. The poems are short; you can read the whole book in under an hour. It's born of three major influences: the unexpected death of Revell's sister, the paintings of Nicolas Poussin, and the writings of Thoreau. The book's emotional power builds as it goes, but the most exciting writing happens in the first section where Revell seems to emerge blinking into a shatteringly bright light that surrounds his spare, slightly deformed poems. The strange brute persistence of life through death figures in "What Can Stop This":
What can stop this

I found a pleasure
I found an easy faith
One is senseless
One never shakes

What can stop this

It makes no difference anymore
What I choose

Or if I choose to walk to St Augustine
To the sea beach driving
A green orange over the sand
With a stick singing

The sympathy of friends is pleasant VIOLINS
But it makes no difference anymore TROMBONES
What Revell's version of Arcady has to do with mine I'm not sure about. Certainly these poems are not representations of the life of enriched subjectivity—the self in these poems, like the language, is vibrating like a struck string at the point of breaking. There's a radical, involuntary openness in the writing to match the Nevada desert. Arcadia as clearing, with only broken words to be the altar:
More Than a Bud but Pale

More than a bud but pale
More than ambition
A flower forges ahead
To death and after
Ards blindly
Into the we
Llspring of the Godhead
O one I can glori
E nowh

Blue monarchs have agonized in a strange tree
Every day more and more freedom

The suffix "-ly" features prominently in this book. An action modified but it also causes nouns to breed: "Imagi / Cally / Lightli / Ly" ("Light Lily Lily Light Light Lily Light"). The last poem, a kind of sonnet (there are many in the book) has a public chill on it; it's probably a post-9/11 poem (the book was published in 2002):
Virgil Watched Them

Virgil watched them
Crossing the river away from him
The fathers without their children
Only a little while

Was he smiling
At Death the Golden Age

Falling backwards
In the Chinese restaurant
The tiniest fireman
I could see that he was smiling

Plenty of children in Arcady without fathers
Our friends long before sundown
The Virgil of the Eclogues supplanted by the Virgil who wrote of Aeneas carrying his father on his back through Troy as it burned. History comes crashing in once again.

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