Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lovely weekend in New York celebrating Emily's birthday and visiting with Mary Jo (who I found in excellent form—look for her newest book, Elegy, from Graywolf in October 2007) and la famille de Camille Guthrie. Sorry to miss the SOON Reading, though—Aaron has a report on it. While in the city, I read an advance copy of Michael Earl Craig's second book, Yes, Master, which I found winningly, darkly surreal, as I did his first book. Many of the poems take the form of twisted, superficially red state narratives whose real interest and pleasure comes from the sudden hairpin turns—as is so often the case with good postmodern poetry, it's the paratactic structure that asks the reader to take little, uncanny leaps from line to line and sentence to sentence. Craig's work is on the lighter side of the spectrum—closer to James Tate than to Ashbery, and closer to either than he is to the more calisthenically demanding leaps of a Clark Coolidge, say, whose parataxis is unified more by sound than by mood and tone, as here. Craig is a balletic comedian, like Chaplin or Jacques Tati (he has Tati in a football helmet suspended in midair on the cover), whose comedy derives from the discomfiture of the human being in a world of perverse objects. That Craig's landscape is that of Montana rather than the urban world of Chaplin serves to remind us, if we needed to be reminded, that the logic of the commodity which animates things and deanimates people is alive and well in the pastoral West:
Because of Roy

Roy could move a lot of sheep.
He moved them off the mountain
with his arms outstretched
at forty degree angles.
Roy never spoke.
He wore navy corduroys.
This annoyed some of the guys.
He walked like a foster child
stepping carefully
and sometimes robotically.
The sheep respected this.
They kept their mouths shut
for once, and flowed down, down,
in a tight and docile band
over the uneven terrain,
because of Roy.
While in the city I acquired a couple of used books: a battered fourth printing of Kenneth Koch's Thank You (one day I hope to own the new collected poems, but this is much handier and more portable) and a book that called to me even though I didn't quite recognize the author: Frank Samperi's The Prefiguration. It's a physically beautiful book published in 1971, and at first glance (all I've had time for) seems very early-Poundian in its aesthetic: brief lyric landscapes in a classical Chinese mode vie with scattered bits of Italian that make me think of Dante and the troubadours. Might be a good book to relax with in between bouts of dissertation-writing and paper-grading.

Bob Archambeau has joined the pleasure discussion, to which I don't have much to add right now. But Mark and Eric do. High-ho, high-ho, it's off to work I go.

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