Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

James Shea, _Star in the Eye_

"I AM THE opposite of a solipsist," the 24th section of "Dream Trial" announces, without further comment. That would be, what, someone who believes only other people exist? But what kind of voice can announce its unbelief in its own existence while it remains fully confident about yours?

Such are the slow-motion explosions brought on by the grenades James Shea impassively lobs into your cerebellum throughout Star in the Eye.

Then there is "The Riverbed," 42 quite short (most of them 3-4 lines) poems, each with its own title, all about riverbeds. Not rivers, mind you... riverbeds. How does one think of the riverbed without thinking of the river? One has never seen a riverbed, save in time of drought. But can one think of the riverbed with the river in it while still not thinking of the river? And there goes a depth charge down your spine to go with that grenade in your brain.

There is an Asian streak in Shea's poetry -- but Asian with a nod and a wink, something like the subversive japonaiserie of "Araki Yasusada" without the actionable fraud. Consider the poem "Haiku," which turns out not to be a haiku but a list of titles of haiku, from "Upon Kissing You After You Vomited" to "On Stopping at the Train Tracks and Having a Deer / Break His Head Through My Passenger Window, / Stare at Me, and Then Run Back into the Wood" (the latter, at 33 syllables, almost twice the length of a haiku). A sprawling, blowsy poem, "Haiku" seems to want to blow a big wet fart at every western cliché about haiku ("Poem / in Which I Embody a Moment So Vividly, So / Succinctly, Yet Decorate It with Such Sills, / Such Elaborations").

Shea reminds me of Robert Francis's "The Pitcher":

His art is eccentricity, his aim

How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,

His technique how to vary the avoidance.

The others throw to be comprehended. He

Throws to be a moment misunderstood.

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,

But every seeming aberration willed.

Not to, yet still, still to communicate

Making the batter understand too late.

I expect Shea to win fifteen games this year, with an E.R.A. of 2.93.

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