Issue 24 – Spring 2013 – Recent & Notable 2013

Recent & Notable 

Frank BidartMetaphysical Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013). No poet alive renders pain as elegantly as Frank Bidart; wholly contemporary, Bidart’s poems have a chiseled form and a finely-hammered language that seems at the same time to belong to the ages. Assessing the past, the body, art, age, love and the lure of the absolute, Bidart turns a cold eye on failure and illusion–always looking hardest at himself. While Bidart makes his own history the main subject of his poetry, his poetry never flinches, and he scours it clean of self-pity. Intensely aware of all the various pasts that have shaped him, Bidart’s poetry flays presumption and folly with a hard-won language of truth telling that wrings great beauty out of pain.–Jon Thompson

Kelvin CorcoranFor the Greek Spring (Shearsman Books, 2013). Combining sequences from four earlier collections with new poems, Corcoran fashions an unusual collection. All the poems in For the Greek Spring engage Greece in some way, either its landscape, its history, its philosophers or culture. With sections like “Occurrences of the Name Helen” and “On the Xenophone Label,” the collection runs the risk of being an academic exercise in verse, but what makes the poetry memorable is not the extensive knowledge it displays of Greek civilization, but its “Attic grace.” I think Corcoran’s poetry is best when it responds to the landscape directly: “this is all there is, the blue/upon blue of layered mountains/to the sea below Parnassos//Apollo and the wooded valley/at the center of the world/all thought is thought about something//one column of smoke rises/the radio plays, I want nothing/the substances of light surrounds the hills.” The intersection of a individual witness with an awareness of the long history of light in that part of the world, all rendered in taut lines full of sharply-observed detail, creates a poetry that, in the final analysis, is not simply dependent upon the beauty of Greece for its power.–Jon Thompson

Roy FisherSelected Poems (Flood Editions, 2011). I’m reminded of William Carlos Williams, purged of the sometimes irrational exuberance, the exclamation marks and intermittent sentimentality; Fisher’s poetry cleaves more toward a chastened, skeptical outlook, but for all of that, it somehow achieves an exceptional generosity and an unexpected warmth–the kindness that comes from the refusal to sugar-coat things. Fisher’s language, like Williams’, eschews Romantic exaltation, and Fisher prefers to make use of a more ordinary, prose-like register which, like Williams, is dependent upon a very high degree of precision in diction, enjambment and rhythm to create a sense of poetic drama. Fisher’s poetry, like Williams’s, achieves a high degree of craftsmanship and trimness by making form that’s expressive in its own right. In just about every way, this is a poetry of imaginative independence and that goes hand-in-hand with a dislike of pretense and affectation. That said, there’s also a wily self-consciousness to his poetry, a self-consciousness shorn of pretense, that Fisher uses to measure himself and the world; an ironic sensibility and a brutal honesty that make for a rare forcefulness. The world that Fisher evaluates is very much an urban, post World War II England, marked by strange beauties and baffling inequalities. Fisher’s eye is drawn to the overlooked, the neglected, and the orphaned, but unlike many who share that interest, Fisher’s conclusions are unpredictable and and often wildly imaginative. Make no mistake: Roy Fisher is no second-rate William Carlos Williams. He has a poetic vision, and a voice, all his own. Flood Editions is to be commended for bringing this grand master, one of the most distinctive, idiosyncratic, self-possessed poets in the U.K., to an American audience.–Jon Thompson