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Poetry Roundup

Serge Gavronsky, Andorthe
(Talisman House, 2007)

Some poets question the very nature of language. Bob Perelman has written about the “value of the dissonance… in Zukovsky” and Serge Gavronsky elaborates on that value in this new book. Named for three articles, the title is an homage to Zukofsky’s Objectivist masterpiece “A”.

Gavronsky jettisons punctuation and gets into “A stream of/Sea mouths” revolving around our experiences. A rhythmic and periodic use of and, or, and the, encapsulates episodes and observations. A persona flares. Themes and a savvy sense of vernacular hold down the tent flaps. Cryptic and mystic, nuggets form in the thin columns: “while I’m on the subject/ the sound of a voice that is still.”

Despite the subversion of his narratives, the words unpeel in appealing layers. Gravity and buoyancy balance. The forward motion of life creates a momentum that sparkles. And like Zukofsky, a sense of sincerity permeates the work, fortified by references to the Bible and pithy maxims.

“Words like wood burn/ Quietly// And// Love// Leaves sometimes/ By the front door// For God alone/ Keeps up/ With you.” Gavronsky himself adjures: “Don’t ask me what it’s all about.” But there’s no doubt he is asking. “Now/My Love/What saith thou to that.” This is distilled verse approaching vapor. It has the timbre of a fine reed.

Cathy Song, Cloud Moving Hands (Pitt Poetry Series, 2007)

Taking what’s closest in life and lining it with insight is Cathy Song’s province. The title refers to a martial arts move suggesting form coming from formlessness. Her reflections on regeneration are told through the quotidian: old letters, surgery, food and breath. Expanded metaphors become transcendent as they grasp at emotions.

In “The Chance to Become True and Real,” a parent figure (a recurring subject) is likened to a film which a child has “resurrected/ out of the dim archives” and “spools frame after flaming frame/ through the intense projection of your heart.” Drawing on her Hawaiian heritage, Song landscapes her work with a natural and easy spirituality. She seeks out “a chance/ to make amends with another.” She addresses suffering and offers promise. She addresses regret and adores the faithful. Kathleen Spivak described the work as “a mirror of the world which contains ambiguity, contradiction, and the prismatic and unflinching regard of the poet.”

What Song aims for, and usually finds, is a “dissolution of boundaries,/ the reconfiguration of a dream.” Transitory shadows float across the distances that separate us—from death and from each other. Song looks through her subjects and follows them to the other side, where “we become more real to ourselves than we had ever been.”

Edmund Berrigan, glad stone children
(Farfalla Press, 2008)

Leapfrog ballet of words—these poems expand on a half-century of NY School wit and wonder. They boldly go where they want. “I touch parts of me/ I can’t really touch.” The scintillating surface of fits and starts hangs together like a magic mantle.
Oh, yes. Mantle. Edmund, with his brother Anselm, shares the title of bonnie prince in the Royal Poetry line of Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley. Well into his own, here he strikes the right balance between meaning and technique, shifting gears effortlessly.
“I came here for a reason,/ to gather and explain.” And the poems do gather. They roll up subject and subtext like a big snowball rolling down a hill, fast, dangerous and beautiful. And they do explain, in a manner of speaking. They definitely explore new terrain as the author is “Reaching out like an imaginary terrain wreck.”
A flexible narrator changes voices, trying on textures—from tough to tony to trendy. Sometimes shapely rhythms take over. Articles, pronouns and propositions tumble over each other.
This book finds a kindred spirit in John Ashbery’s groundbreaking 1956 book, Some Trees. By turns, it dazzled and baffled, hit deep notes and tinkled. Edmund Berrigan is at the forefront of a re-vitalized poetry—informed, whimsical and movingly lyric.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2008

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