Two New reviews by Greg Bem

January 31, 2011

600 Words for Two New Books of Balanced Verse

Michael McClure: Mysteriosos and Other Poems (New Directions, 2010)

Not having read any Michael McClure since my undergraduate education a couple years ago, I was struck with curiosity when I learned about this book. I’m thankful the hesitation wasn’t enduring, as Mysteriosos is nothing short of brilliant. In its entirety, it’s a powerfully sculpted text with propulsive ideas floating along from each beautiful line to the next. The book is composed of several sections of longer poems of varying lengths, themes, and styles, but these fabrics of deep experience are sewn at the seams with singular, ecstatically-nostalgic poetic entities and homages. Through the well-rounded placement of such contrasting poems, there is a unity. The book steps beyond any poetic individualization or rabble, and further defines McClure as nothing short of versatile. As a poet who is culturally legendary and yet regularly humble, McClure can handle an etched vulnerability of personal experience while still triumphing with each macrocosmic stage he records and reinvents. McClure’s writing has always afforded a certain natural, beyond-human energy, but Mysteriosos shines at its fullest through a presentation of the soft pouts between the big bangs. McClure as poet and persona travels into the unreal, the dreams, the hard reality, but rests when it is time to rest. No specific energy is compromised and perhaps this is because of the continuation of a balanced use of form. Through the years McClure has been capable of transcending the visual form of the poem and here that transcendence is a constant, undeniable achievement. McClure is able to produce emotive content from every soulful direction through a heightened, yet narrow use of space. And yet there is illumination in these poems that is liberating and uncanny. Reading the verse here is never a chore; it’s an invitation. And yet I feel sorrow for not reading more of him sooner.

Susan Howe: This That (New Directions, 2010)

I first encountered Susan Howe when I was drunk, on a Rhode Island bus, headed from Providence to Newport. I was reading Pierce Arrow and laughing like a crazy person because I didn’t understand anything I was reading but knew it was something elastic, magically-conceived, and ready to be explored. As much as I enjoyed it, I never saw Howe’s work as something close to me. Those fragments of introduction attest to just how inviting yet challenging Howe is for different people. Despite the confusion I felt in her poetry, my memories of first encounters retain on the personal level a twistedly proverbial buzz that no other poet’s been able to recreate. Now, years later, I am confronted with a completely different but not unrelated Susan Howe in This That. The book is remarkable in its boldness. Through “The Disappearance Approach”, a memoir of reflection on the death of her husband, Howe writes as a powerful poet whose worn, provoked soul has seen crisis and slightly opened. It is sorrowful and yet brimming with peace. In “Frolic Architecture”, Howe’s visual experimentation evokes scary, bleak underpinnings of the life of Hannah Edwards Wetmore. Access into Wetmore’s secrets is made up of bedpost hash marks and shadows behind a closet—what we catch a glimpse of is not less nor more than mystery. The final third of the book is a cascading echo from Howe’s well-known metaphysical offerings. Although at seven pages “This That” feels economic and thwarted, each of these poems, from four to six lines in length, are chiseled monuments. Crisp lines arch through either time or space. They are soft whispers and yet commands from a creator, begging for existence: “Not spirit not space finite/Not infinite to those fixed—/That this millstone as such/Quiet which side on which—“.

(Editor’s note: More on Mysteriosos here. Another review of Mysteriosos here.)



  1. Three New Reviews « Greg Bem's Stale Attitude - [...] I also reviewed two new books from New Directions, which can be found on the SPLAB site: [...]

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