Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spencer Short, _Tremolo_

SOMEONE, ON LEARNING I liked Ben Doyle's Radio, Radio, recommended this -- I'm not sure what linked the two in this person's mind, however. Perhaps that Short and Doyle were friends? They were at the Iowa Writers Workshop at approximately the same time; both published their first books (Tremolo and Radio, Radio) in 2001, both with a bit of fanfare, Short's book selected for the National Poetry Series by Billy Collins, Doyle's winning the Walt Whitman Award. Tremolo's acknowledgements thank Doyle "for raising the bar."

I liked Tremolo, but it didn't remind me much of Radio, Radio, which struck me as more cerebral and less confessional (or simulating confession) than Tremolo, more interested in form, more oblique... not that there isn't plenty to like in Short's book, though: wit, ambition (the sonnet sequence "Bedbug Variations" and longer poems like "Subjectivity"), lightly-carried erudition, invention. The voice dances in and out of a wide variety of registers and is never less than entertaining, sometimes a good bit more.

Short has more fun with punctuation than most people allow themselves to have -- ampersands, plus signs, equals signs, a dash followed by a semi-colon (very 19th century), and something I don't recall having seen before, slashes used to indicate poetry line breaks used in the middle of a line of poetry. This is from "Four Meals a Day":

As one bears oneself
From one ruinous, urinous alley
to another/ As one kicks away
the burning crutch...

Since a slash in such a context usually means "imagine a line break here," being asked to imagine a line break in a poem, in a line which in fact kept on going as a line, gave me a peculiar but delicious frisson.

I would be interested in reading another book by Short, but there seems not to be one. It's been a rather long wait for a second book by Ben Doyle (now Ben Doller) as well, but he currently has a new book out from Ahsahta Press. Meanwhile, Short doesn't seem to be even on poets.org or poetryfoundation.org; nor was he in the anthology Legitimate Dangers, though a good many Writers Workshop folks of his vintage were. Did he call it quits, is he just biding his time, has he succumbed to the unhealthy habits occasionally alluded to in this volume? I know not. This is a good book, though.

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