Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Favorite Recent Books of Poems: Two by Brian Clements


FOR THE final National Poetry Month post about my favorite recent books of poems, I'm going to exercise editorial control.

I'm going to live on the edge.

I will write about one author but two books:
Disappointed Psalms & And How to End It, both published in 2008 by Brian Clements.

Though the books are distinct collections, a number of correspondences and cross references makes them feel like poetic patches cut from the same quilt. Small but provocative, both books pose provocative questions about the relationship between belief, the cosmos, and current American social and political crises.

What makes these collections particularly useful, though, is that the poems are wonderfully short and diverse. Clements tricks out And How to End It with prose poems, questions and answers, aphorisms, Whitmanesque catalogs, and short intense lyrics. Sometimes, a combination of each of these:

I have heard that the signs say one thing and the stars say another.

Who are you going to believe?

I have heard that a shotgun blast at point blank range you cannot survive.

That, on the wall behind you, your shadow-form imprints in droplets as numerous as stars in the galaxy.

That the shadow-form, too, cannot survive. (from And How to End It)
Of course, these poems ask more questions than they answer. Part of their effectiveness lies in their refusal to close, to sum up. At times, they feel like American versions of Roberto Juarroz pieces--short, philosophical, open-ended.

This is especially the case for Disappointed Psalms, whose poems confront "god" and the idea of god on nearly every page. This beautifully executed volume by Meritage Press actually reads like a postmodern book of psalms, a manual for the disaffected and disenfranchised, the questioner and the doubter, the believer and the believed.

When taken together, these books show a poetic range that is impressive as well as a vision of language's ability to understand its own limits. The universe may be infinite; words not so much. How the latter makes sense of the former, though, is for Clements, the space where poetry happens.

1 comment:

  1. Great preview/review. I really want to check these books out!