HARD TO BETTER Graham Foust's assessment in the back cover blurb: "Lo and behold: James Shea is the James Shea of poetry." Shea gets some of his best and most distinctive effects with like repetitions, which look like tautologies from one end, like Möbius strips from another, and which leave one with a certain defamiliarizing-the-familiar effect, a kind of ostranenie, by making you look at something right next to itself.
There's an old saying: there's an old saying.
A finger snapping in your cerebellum, no? "There's an old saying" is an old saying, one realizes, and realizing we have an old saying we habitually use to introduce old sayings induces the same euphoric vertigo we get from the ending of the book's first poem:
Something flew out of
the window and then
the window flew out of the window.
"New and Selected"--kind of a miniature volume within the volume--contains a twist on the doubling-is-revelation idea, whisking it out from under us:
Two Pieces of Advice
Most advice comes in the form of two pieces.
This is not really advice.
We can take in the first piece, acknowledge its accuracy (neither a borrower nor a lender be, know when to hold them and know when to fold them), then get the smack of the poem's disproving of its own assertion...but was the assertion really advice to begin with?
There's something Asian in the way so many of these poems fruitfully wrong-foot the reader, even though the prevailing landscape is that of the Great Plains, even though "purposeless purposiveness" turns out to be Kant rather than Zen. The twain shall never meet? I don't know--they seem to have met here.