Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, May 22, 2017

Cynthia Zarin, _Orbit_ and _The Watercourse_

I HAD LAZILY been thinking of Cynthia Zarin, without having read any of her books, as someone who wrote the kind of elegant, well-behaved poems you would find plenty of in the New Yorker back in the Alice Quinn days, so I was surprised when I encountered a couple of startling, somewhat audacious poems she had in The Nation a few months back.  Okay, I thought, I'll bite, and I got her new book, Orbit.

And you know what? It's really good. An unusually cohesive volume, for one thing, and still elegant, but also sometimes weird, obsessive, unfathomable--just up my street, in other words.

I felt sufficiently inspired to attempt an actual review, which if my fortunes flourish will actually appear somewhere else on the web, so I'll say no more about Orbit here.

But I will say a bit about The Watercourse, which I acquired under the momentum of my enthusiasm for Orbit.  From 2002, won a prize from the L. A. Times, inspired Wayne Koestenbaum to write, "Cynthia Zarin's poems are as beautiful as anything being written today." And they are beautiful, just not all that interesting... the well-behaved thing again, hand-painted porcelain in a display case, all too, too Alice Quinn. Which can be a good thing--just not the sort of thing I seek out.

By the way, I don't approve of people praising anybody's hand-painted-porcelain-in-a-display-case poems by comparing them to the work of Elizabeth Bishop.  This is selling Bishop drastically short, I think. If a poem is not at least a little bit scary, it is not like a poem by Elizabeth Bishop.

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