Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meg Kearney, _Home By Now_

MEG KEARNEY RECENTLY gave a reading here where I live, so I picked this up; published last year, it's her most recent book. Her language is plain, even colloquial, her themes often autobiographical (often about growing up as an adopted child, wondering about her biological parents), the lyrical idea usually lying near the surface, not too deeply buried, ready to be found. Hers is a poetry that even people who complain about poetry might enjoy.

My own taste is usually towards the baffling and outré, but even so I found a lot to like here. One poem responds to a writing teacher's advice (dated December 2001) to stop writing about herself and face the world ("George Says Stop Writing About Yourself") by listing all the things she is not to write about and thereby (ha!) writing about them nonetheless:

forget your mother
sipping a cigarette, a Dugan's Dew -- forget
your other mother, your other father, too,

and the one you last saw in a coffin not looking
at all like himself, so much not-him you couldn't
bear be near that body.

But this clever obedience-as-disobedience suddenly leaps into an engagement with history and the urgencies of the moment -- but then still based on the author's senses, her lived actuality:

It opens the window to that stench, three months

now of that smell, man-made, human, wafting
from downtown. This poem is in the street,
where war does its thing. See, there's a man
walking up Broadway: his shoes, suit, eyelashes,
lips covered with dust that used to be a building.

Also memorable are the wit of "First Blow Job":

Suddenly I knew what it was to be my uncle's Labrador retriever,
young pup paddling furiously back across the pond with the prized
duck in her mouth, doing the best she could to keep her nose in the air

so she could breathe.

And "So This Grasshopper Walks into a Bar," which does an extraordinary job of rendering the rhythms of a shift as a bartender, the early-evening bonhomie and euphoria metamorphosing into later-evening fumbling lust and red-eyed danger, to end with not a bang but a whimper -- the sour smells, the sense of abandonment and the unearthly quiet of closing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Robert Wrigley, _Beautiful Country_

WHATEVER BECAME OF the "Mistress of my Fate" blog? A distinctly snarky observation about Robert Wrigley, drawn from the blog, serves as epigraph to one of the poems in this, Wrigley's most recent book, a poem in which Wrigley snarks right back at the blogger. But "Mistress of my Fate" seems to have disappeared. Perhaps M. of my F. decided it was time to re-brand.

This is the first volume by Wrigley I have picked up, inspired by a reading he recently gave in the vicinity. Likeable work. Love poems, poems of natural description, memories of boyhood and youth... fairly traditional subject matter, it's fair to say. It's not surprising to learn from "Introduction to Poetry" that Wrigley heard the call to become a poet after reading Herrick's "Upon Julia's Clothes," for his poems typically travel down the broad highway of the English lyric. Not without the occasional contemporary touch -- Wrigley describes discovering Herrick's poem on a campus somewhere in 1973, at the very moment a classmate named Julie whooshes by, "streaking."

Loping in cadence, expansive in syntax, generous in figuration, the poems in Beautiful Country do not have, to my ear, a sharply distinctive music -- in a jumble assortment of Wrigley's poems with others by, say, James Wright, Donald Justice, and Stephen Dunn, I don't believe I could guess which were his -- but they are worth reading. And I'm pleased to note he himself reads them well; in an era when rather too many poets have taken literally J. S. Mill's dictum that "poetry is overheard," Wrigley performs his poems with a refreshing energy.