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Poetry Roundup

Stephen Paul Miller, Skinny Eighth Avenue

(Marsh Hawk Press, 2005)

Breezy and flip, but never arch, Stephen Paul Miller’s poems are engaging and inventive. The lines snake and cascade across the pages (like the snake on the cover going in and out of holes), liberated from the flush left format. Irreverence is matched with belief: “I believe in the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus/ because their jobs happen.”

First person narratives abound. Miller shares the stage though (even using drawings by his son) and as Bob Holman noted on the jacket blurb, “The Millers, père et fils, spread it over Everything.”

Contemporary culture, especially politics, is embraced. George Bush is a major protagonist. In play-like scenarios we’re introduced to John Gotti, Marilyn Monroe and Van McCoy who wrote “The Hustle.” Like Pound and Ginsberg, Miller takes on the real world, leavening it with surrealist tropes and disarming asides.

In the intimate title poem, Miller laces his writing with talk, bringing forth the full power of language. Weaving together daily incidentals with lofty insights, we are brought into a glowing circle of light where the poet speaks directly to us. “I somehow feel…/ …I could/ not talk unless you were/ listening.” We have become the muse and are inspired by our transformation.

Eileen Tabios, Dredging for Atlantis

(Otoliths, 2006)

Imagine the poet as a diver exploring oceans of ancient texts, extracting gems, polishing and resetting them. In her 11th book, Eileen Tabios refers to ekphrasis, or speaking out in a dramatic way about a work of art. She chose “The Last Lunar Baedekar” by Mina Loy, to scumble and work over to create her own startling and original poems. Sleek and economic, they glitter with unexpected imagery and musicality in an atmosphere charged by crinoline and cufflinks, grace and salvation.

“Minor Riddle” (an apposite title) is avant and high-toned and flirts with academe. Yet the ensuing freedom and consequent surprises are compelling and reveal an interior logic unbeholden to straight-up narrative. Embedded in the backdrop of Florence is this joyous one-line stanza: “Minarets growing within muddy whirlpools.”

In “White as Grecian Marble” the poet creates a shiny column of couplets, a classic pastoral. “A trolley loaded/with ivory busts//glides against air/overtaken by snow//beyond this crocheted lace of white dandelions//and one orchid// recalling its youthful orgies.”

Wow! Sappho meets the Objectivisits! Ivory, snow, crocheted lace and white dandelions line up perfectly. And echoing orchid with orgies—the last line is all punch.

Jack Kerouac wrote, “Vision is deception.” Eileen Tabios’ version goes like this: “Go forth and prettily miscalculate.”

Edited by Murat Nemet-Nejat, Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry

(Talisman House, 2004)

Eda is a particularly Turkish slant, a little like Lorca’s “duende,” an untranslatable sense of image, stance or space. These poems, spanning most of a century, offer a window onto the Turkish soul, by turns exotic, quotidian, mysterious, romantic and always evocative. The editor, Murat Nemet-Nejat, has done a great service in his selection of poets and translators.

A bent for surrealism, coupled with attention to nature, colors the national complexion. Beginning with the old school we have Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (b. 1901): “A Rose/offers itself/a coral wine glass/in/the bars/of time//…” And born in 1898, Faruk Nafiz Camlibel writes: “My love will follow you like a pack of hounds….” Woof!

There is also the trenchant penchant for gravitas one might expect from a somewhat harsh terrain. “As my sister passes on a phaeton suicide black/In the streets of Pera in love with dying.” “Bottomless wells of mother’s grief.” Both from Ece Ayhan who helped usher in the modern era.

The postmodern era, while more fractitious, carries on the mordant strain. Kucuk Iskender (born in 1964) helped launch this phase with “Souljam,”: “‘this sadness above me,/ when will it stop brooding?’” He also noted “Turks often fuck to keep busy.” It all sounds good to me!


Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

Wright is a New Romantic poet associated with St. Mark's Poetry Project.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2007

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