A dazzling new collection from critically acclaimed poet Amy Gerstler
Sly and sophisticated, direct, playful, and profound, Amy Gerstler's new collection highlights her distinctive poetic style. In thirty-seven poems, using a variety of dramatic voices and visual techniques, she finds meaning in unexpected places, from a tour of a doll hospital to an ad for a CD of Beethoven symphonies to an earthy exploration of toast. Gerstler's abiding interests--in love and mourning, in science and pseudoscience, in the idea of an afterlife, in seances and magic--are all represented here. Entertaining and erudite, complex yet accessible, these poems will enhance Gerstler's reputation as an important contemporary poet.
Amid the grab bag of discursive forms that make up Gerstler's eighth collection, single anecdotes animate several poems, as when a speaker misreads an offer for "Beethoven's Complete Symphonies" as "Beethoven's Complete Sympathies" and indulges in the not-so-surprising riff: "This immortal/ master... has not forgotten those left behind/ to endure gridlock and mind-ache,/ wearily crosshatching the earth's surface/ with our miseries...." Gerstler has a bit of a Billy Collins problem, writing poems that tussle with, but never quite extend, intentionally light premises that conceal serious subjects: domestic life, evolution and chronic stagnation, magic and the supernatural. In "Touring the Doll Hospital," for instance, the speaker asks, "Why so many senseless injuries?" and a few lines later, sighs, "Small soldiers with no Geneva Convention to protect them...." Such jokes tend to sink pieces in which some version of the spirit world is invoked: "Witch Songs" refers to an "invitation/ written in semen and ash�"/ can't we just reply in ink?" while, "The Oracle at Delphi, Reincarnated as a Contemporary Adolescent Girl," begins, "I'm high most of the time on hallucinogenic fumes." Often, one doubts the poet's own investment in particular poems. What to make of a long catalogue, "Fuck You Poem #45," which reads like an undergraduate exercise: "Fuck you in slang and conventional English./ Fuck you in lost and neglected lingoes./ Fuck you hungry and sated; faded, pock marked and defaced./ Fuck you with orange rind, fennel and anchovy paste." While the collection's formal heterogeneity is refreshing, too many of the pieces here feel tossed off.
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April 05, 2004
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