Keith Waldrop’s Selected Poems & Rosmarie Waldrop’s Gap Gardening: Selected Poems

$19.95 Omnidawn & $18.95 New Directions (respectively)

The Waldrops are what some might call a power couple. Co-founders and -editors of 55-year-old experimental press Burning Deck, and prolific poets/translators in their own right, Rosmarie and Keith have long published and written work outside the confines of neat categorization. It’s not any one thing all the time, but it’s never all over the place. They have succeeded in constellating authors such as Lyn Hejinian, Barbara Guest, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Peter Gizzi, Elizabeth Willis, Farhad Showghi, Cole Swensen, and William Bronk, to name a few. And their poetry compliments their editorial leanings perfectly.

I think of their writing as elastic, clandestinely formal, free then tight, worldly in allusion and in scope yet, here and there, huddled, private. “Major poet[ry] of quiet,” Ben Lerner says of Keith, “his work refuses […] the twin traps of impassivity and affectation.” And Rosmarie’s, from Nikolai Duffy’s introduction to Gap Gardening—“a poetry of betweens, of crossings, of differences and relations” in which “[m]etonymy takes precedence over metaphor.” There is a lot of braininess behind the scenes. The Waldrops both seem to enjoy very much poking and prodding the consituents of language, of memory, of perception. But their investigative experimentation neither ushers us too far from the personal nor rudely uproots our shared sense of wonderment. It is high time this dynamic duo was treated to proper retrospectives.

In closing, a quote from an interview with Keith Waldrop: “I think the worst fault a poem can have is striving for effect.”

* * *

“Shorter American Memory Of Wagon Trails”

Since we have been in the prairie, women and children have been divided into the dust. There are sixty wagons awkward to exclaim with an oath. One of the oxen is prostrate on the ground. From near midnight on through the small hours swim countless dogs. The tents struck, duty forms another cluster. There are no stones in this country. By a strong effort of will, the moon. Both man and beast are sadly untracked sand. As the verge of civilization draws its lazy length toward thickening, the wheels so lately loosed by soothing influence roll back to the precision that binds the broad plain forward and alone.


* * *


I am already sweeping towards my most
permanent state. Keith means “wind,” according
to What to Name the Baby. There is
a paradise promised for those who despise
whatever turns—flesh going sour—and I
have despised it.

But I have been converted. Stock dreams can be
flicked on, the assured voice forming first and
then, slowly, its radiant body, but they fulfill
no wish of mine. All my aerier hopes
have dwindled to a momentary point of light,

Reality is what does not change, i.e., reality
is what does not exist, held desperately.
All my past sins I attribute to a
commerce with angels, someone else’s. The
earth brings forth of itself and the rest is only
worth a thought.

Now faces crop out of the most random
inorganic patterns, usually nobody’s in particular.
I take them as a less specific, less
beautiful, Allegory of Spring. Sometimes,
at night, my head swerves in a rising spiral
of labyrinthine

vertigo, descending only in the arc of sleep.
But I have learned to like the dust I am fed by
winds that shift across an actual world.
I am already what I will be later. And the cycles
shorten. I owe letters to so many, I doubt
that I will ever catch up now.


* * *

Posted by Alexander Moysaenko