Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Michael Earl Craig, _Thin Kimono_

HIS THIRD BOOK, but the first I've read. Grounded, plain-spoken, drily funny -- in some ways, not the kind of book I expect from Wave Books. I do enjoy Wave Books and I did enjoy Thin Kimono, you understand -- it's just that they occupy what seem to me different points in the spectrum. So no offense to anyone, OK? OK.

Not that Craig is incapable of the kind of legerdemain that is one of the characteristics of Wave Books. "Diana" is a 6-page poem all but entirely composed of lines from Diana, a 1927 novel by Vida Hurst. Judging from what we get, Diana was a fairly ordinary novel about the reckless and feckless privileged types in the 20s, and the poem has something of the fizzy, heady quality of watching a two-hour Gloria Swanson melodrama that has been edited down to eight minutes. At one point in both novel and poem, Diana "dropped her clothes to floor, wrapped a thin kimono about her aching body and threw herself on the bed"-- hence the title.

And what a great title! It's half of the reason why I bought the book. (Plus one-quarter its being short-listed by The Believer for poetry volume of the year and one-quarter Craig's giving a reading in the town where I live.)

Another particularly intriguing part of the book is the 18 8-line poems that constitute Part II of the book. Craig did not intend them to constitute a whole -- I know because I took the trouble to ask him -- but the consistent form, the grouping of them together as a section without titles, and a sustained, wry observational humor nonetheless make the eighteen poems feel like they belong together, that they are having a kind of indirect conversation among themselves, with more than a few loose ends, true, but enjoying each other's company. Here too, as in Doller's Dead Ahead, one might detect a Muldoonian note or two:

He said she was like a gorge to him.
How so? she said.
He didn't say. She said something
to rhyme with meconium and
turned, and walked away.
He had a Pernod on the coaster before him
The seals were indeed in the harbor,
floating queerly like rockets.

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