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Monday, October 28, 2013

Three Books: Finkelstein, Kimmelman, Murphy

Norman Finkelstein, Track, Shearsman Books, 2012.
Track is a big work, a metaphysical poem, twelve or more years in development, that situates the material word, if the word is ever in any sense material, as the spring to love or the hinge between love and the abyss. Abyssal space is populated by conceptual ghosts: “Guest Ghost Host / three figures with one face” (219). The ghost enters in the first of the three books that form Track and continues as the emergent bass; “Still a stranger / here at home” (219). A study in zero-sum gaming, perhaps the word is materially most present when it is found in text or framed by poetry. Elements remind me of Borges and Mackey, of Spicer and Duncan, Ronald Johnson. “Illusory power / real but illusory / phantoms of our making / and not our making” (195). Finkelstein lives in a ghost-ridden world that is also an author-haunted world as if seeking reunion with a lost father, not at rest. The text invokes generations of scribes; it is replete with strangeness. The convolutions and repetitions of his logic lead Finkelstein to seek allies, “To free oneself of sententious platitudes / music the ally / silence the ally” (226). His words at their most lyrical fuse boundaries, “Between the living and the dead / the past and the present // The dead make a present / of their future presence // In and out of time” (282). The couplets read like hemistiches, especially “The dead make a present / of their future presence” – chiastic prosody embodies the convolutions of argument, beautifully.

Burt Kimmelman, Gradually the World: New and Selected Poems, Blazevox Books, 2012.

I find snapshots as incisive as any In William Carlos Williams, “The mother, father and grown / daughter sit in overcoats, / bending over their soup and” (“Early March Afternoon,” 205). Kimmelman forces enjambments, using the short line as a unit of attention. This volume, enigmatically illustrated by Basil King, has a relation to the visual arts that is to me draughtsman-like: “the hair line / across // the eye, the red sun, these // are the creatures of the air” (“Miro at the Guggenheim, 8.13.87,” 60). It is good that these poems are not lost, that we have a collection with this range. What interests me are the profound emotions that animate his lines. Seeming diffidence yields grief:

Purple asters fall

on the walk after

rain – wet leaves, too, have

dropped, bereft of home,

stuck to stone, to dirt

                             “After Rain October” 43

Out by my rural mailbox purple asters, sprays of goldenrod, and whisps of red-orange bittersweet, remind, as does Kimmelman’s work, of the relation between perishable nature and the arts of composition.


Robert Murphy, From Behind the Blind, Dos Madres, 2013

“Bodies like sticks of butter in the refrigerator” (34) he writes. Later he invokes stacked cordwood (36) and cuts of meat (47). The prose harbors intimacies that resembles a near-death experience (as others would have it), visionary and desperate and haunting. Such are our immanent realities (as I put it) but Robert Murphy’s are also akin to a magical realism that some will find dated. Emersonian perhaps in his imaginative embrace of both the living and the dead. There is much death here for an apparently pastoral exercise. “For who, / or whatever sleeps in me tonight / sleeps dead (“At Age 60”). His words intend a comforting realism, “the return of the bison” (43).

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