Open Books: The Goods - Archive
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Recent Books - 05/10
Mean Free Path ($16 Copper Canyon)
by Ben Lerner
Mean free path, the book’s cover informs, is the average distance a particle travels before colliding with another particle. Keeping this in mind can be helpful when first approaching the poetic process at work in this collection. Images, lines, sentences collide here in ways that sometimes have seemingly scant overt relationship to each other, but that, through their collisions, create a moving, thoughtful whole. This writing is one of the more vibrant responses to the Ezra Pound dictum "Make it new." Phrases are collaged from political speech, commercial speech, and personal speech, including a thread weaving in the death of a friend and another weaving in Lerner’s love for his wife, Ariana. Sentences are interrupted, then resume later; imagery of air travel, of life during war, of reading and writing, occur frequently. Lerner is a ceaselessly intelligent and compassionate writer, one engendering awe and delight. His work is complex and challenging. And, when taken on its own terms, exceedingly rewarding --
from "Mean Free Path"
I decided I would come right out and say it
Into a hollow enclosure producing the
The aural illusion that we are in a canyon
They call this an experience of structure
Or a cave. If it weren’t for Ari
In the literature. It has to do with predicates
But it is. I had planned a work of total outrage
Changing phase upon reflection
Until a wave of jasmine interfered
Three anthologies walked into the bookstore. That sounds like a joke, we know. In fact, one of those anthologies is called Seriously Funny: Poems about Love, Death, Religion, Art, Sex, and Everything Else, edited by poets Barbara Hamby and David Kirby ($24.95 Univ. of Georgia). But it would be a misrepresentation of this 400-page collection to call it a gathering of jokey poems. As the editors make plain in their introduction (and as the book’s title suggests), they sought out "poems that evoke poetry's timeless concerns but include a comic element as well." Drawing mostly from contemporary poetry, Hamby and Kirby do include the work of The Beats (Corso, Ginsberg) and The New York School (Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery -- the latter still a vibrant contemporary poet), considering them primary influences on today's humorously serious writers. A number of names one would hope to see here are -- James Tate, Lucia Perillo, Albert Goldbarth. Others might be less expected but no less welcome -- Louise Glück, Harryette Mullen, Galway Kinnell, John Berryman. This book carries the endorsements of both Marjorie Perloff and Nancy Pearl --that has to be a first.
Two attorneys edited an anthology. Again, sounds like a joke, but it’s most definitely not. Editors David Kader and Michael Stanford have created Poetry of the Law ($22 Univ. of Iowa), a collection of 100 poems from over seven centuries about lawyers and judges, historical trials, punishment, legal concepts, and legal metaphors applied to nonlegal subjects. Arranged chronologically, the volume begins with a poem by Chaucer, travels through the work of Shakespeare, Swift, Pope, Dickinson, Kipling, Williams, Auden, Rukeyser, and many other poets, closing with a large selection of contemporary poems by writers such as Ted Kooser, Seamus Heaney, and Rita Dove. The result illuminates the legal world through the unique light of poetry.
Lastly, The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry ($19.99) is a gathering of remarkable breadth, no joke. Though editors Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris write that this volume is not as complete as they would like it to be, it is nonetheless an impressive and exciting anthology of work by 20th century writers from numerous lands whose poems have been translated into English, some rarely so. Here in its entirety is a poem by Italy's Sandro Penna translated by W. S. Di Piero --
“A Glass of Milk and a Piazza”
A glass of milk and a piazza
with a statue. A glass of milk
from your sweet, new, dirty hands.
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