Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Brief Reviews: Gabriel Spera and Laura Walker

The Rigid Body
Gabriel Spera
Ashland Poetry Press, $15.95

Laura Walker
Apogee Press, $15.95

Here are two books that are radically different.

Spera's work, which I have praised before, is a lovely balance between tightness and expansiveness. Like each poem really wants to have these huge Whitmanesque lines but Spera's sensibilities rein everything in.

Unlike Standing Wave, however, Spera seems a bit freer in The Rigid Body, loosening up, namechecking works, borrowing, and generally having as good a time as he can have. Now, if you guess from his Randian Hero author photo (or is it Jobsean Hero?) or the general tenor of the poems, you might not think it's that much fun. Indeed, my one complaint is that Spera is a bit serious. But who isn't these days?

Anyway, it's a good book. My personal favorites are perhaps his two most clearly allusive poems, "The Hive" and "The Forsaken Cry." "The Hive" recalls Plath, both "Blackberrying" and The Bee Poems:

Something must've died, I figured, judging
by the orgy of fat black flies
that smudged the air. But no, they weren't flies,
but bees. . .

And "The Forsaken City" is a riff on Auden's Musee des Beaux Arts with a dash of Dante and modern torture thrown in:

About torture, they were all wrong,
the old masters, how little they understood
its tactics and procedures. . .

Get it, read it, love it.

Now, on to a book I ought not to like if you follow what I tend to say about poetry, Laura Walker's Follow-Haswed. It's an erasure book, like Ronald Johnson's Radi Os. I mention Johnson because I've not seen a better example of the style of erasure than his reduction of Paradise Lost.

Erasure is a trick, sure. But it can result in some nice literary moments. Follow-Haswed has many of these. The concept of the book is that Walker took entries from the OED between "follow" and "haswed" and erased erased erased until she came up with something rather poetic.

"go" has stuck with me:

[bees] are reddy to flye
that when they
they make a great humming
from their word
I lost
from their word
I lost him

Walker does a good job of finding the Eliot/Cummings element within the OED. As it's made up mostly of quotes supporting the usage of the words, I don't see that this is terribly surprising but, as I say, it can be nice. Indeed, I thought I would just hate the book but it rises above the cuteness of found poetry techniques to make some art.

And isn't that what good form is? One doesn't like a sonnet because it rhymes or a villanelle because it repeats lines. Nor should one like a poem because it is an anagram of Shakespeare's sonnets or something gleaned from computer printouts. One should like a poem because it's good poetry. Walker does that--and that's something to be praised.

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