Thursday, August 21, 2008

When I picked Aram Saroyan’s Complete Minimal Poems for the William Carlos Williams award earlier this year, I noted that there were some 19 books entered into the Poetry Society of America contest that were so good that I wanted to give them all awards. I have to date discussed 15 of those books here. One that I haven’t yet written about was also published by Saroyan’s own publisher, Ugly Duckling Presse¹ of Brooklyn. This is Laura Solomon’s Blue and Red Things, a slim book that would be thinner still if it did not reprint an earlier Solomon chapbook, Letters by which Sisters Will Know Brothers.

Solomon is a Philadelphia poet, tho not somebody I’ve met. Her poetry reads like a current generation post-NY school aesthetic, valuing liveliness, spontaneity & wit over the closed pattern work of received forms:

Boots Made of Steel

Feet of little

I will stomp
through the forest
so that even the very
tops of the trees can hear me.

Snow will not
bury my tracks.

Yet there is a seriousness here that one doesn’t automatically associate with the New York School, or at least only with very certain members thereof (e.g. David Shapiro) & which can show up here in the most unexpected ways:

What the Buzzard Had to Say

I am small and a weed
but this does not discourage me
with every circle I grow an acre with every road
I feed a tiny god.

There is a cognitive dissonance right at the juncture between tiny & god that is quite remarkable. Imagine a 30-second piece of music, complete in & of itself, that ends deliberately with a fingernail dragged along a blackboard. It’s an effect that only one composer I can imagine (Harry Partch) ever could have pulled off. Solomon makes it look effortless.

This skill comes in especially handy in the book’s two longer sequences, a ten-page piece entitled “Notes to the Music” and the book’s final section, “Letters by which Sisters Will Know Brothers.” In both instances, it’s hard to demonstrate this piecemeal, a quote here or a quote there. Solomon is quite willing to construct one seeming imperfect page after another in a manner that adds up to a great deal of emotional & intellectual power. The elegiac “Letters,” dedicated to two men who died too young at 22 & 44, is that rarest of creatures, a work in the NY School mode that could actually move you to tears. That sense of the imperfect – you can see it in the first poem above which could seem too static, or even in the book’s title, in the vagueness of the word Things – is I think a powerful device, precisely because it’s difficult (if not impossible) not to read it as sincerity. Solomon uses these imprecisions with almost zenlike mastery, like the “perfect” circle of stones that doesn’t come into focus until you move one (and only one) a few inches out of place.

The result is a book toward which I have two distinct reactions. First, it’s serious in the way that life is also. Second, it makes me feel good about poetry, and about the future of poetry. So long as we have poets like Laura Solomon, we have hope.


¹ I find that terminal “e” unforgivably pretentious, like all the little boutiques that call themselves “shoppes” in every suburban mall in America.