I’m offering passages from some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this past year. Most of the books were published in 2008. Most of the books are by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but there are also authors who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in a doorway. In short, they’re here because I enjoyed their books and I think you will, too.
AZORES: POEMS, by David Yezzi, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2008.
TRITINA FOR SUSANNAH
The water off these rocks is green and cold.
The sandless coast takes the tide in its mouth,
as a wolf brings down a deer or lifts its child.
I walked this bay before you were my child.
Your fingers stinging brightly in the cold,
I take each one and warm it in my mouth.
Though I’ve known this shore for years, my mouth
holds no charms of use to you, my child.
You will have to learn the words to ward off cold
and know them cold, child, in your open mouth.
David Yezzi’s third collection, Azores, is the book of poetry that I returned to most often in 2008. Poems, like songs, should have little knots in them that take time to undo, and Yezzi’s deceptively plainspoken style often concerns itself with the troubled, conflicted emotions of everyday life. Yezzi’s poetry in general, and Azores in particular, often has a strong erotic undercurrent, which suits his focus on the gap between regulated behavior and ungovernable private feelings. But Yezzi’s sophistication encompasses the mixed feelings of a parent contemplating the troubles lying in store for a child (as in the poem above), or a man wondering if his inability to feel anything for the sudden death of another reflects something deeper and emptier about himself:
The call comes and you’re out. When you retrieve
the message and return the call, you learn
that someone you knew distantly has died.
His bereaved partner takes you through the news.
She wants to tell you personally how
he fought and, then, how suddenly he went.
She’s stunned, and you feel horrible for her,
though somewhat dazed, since he was not a friend,
just someone you saw once or twice a year,
and who, in truth, always produced a shudder:
you confess that you never liked him much,
not to her, of course, but silently to yourself.
You feel ashamed, or rather think the word
ashamed, and hurry off the line. That’s when
the image of him appears more vividly,
with nicotine-stained fingertips and hair
like desert weeds fetched up on chicken wire,
the rapacious way he always buttonholed
you at a launch, his breath blowsy with wine.
Well, that will never happen again:
one less acquaintance who stops to say hello,
apparently happy at the sight of you.
So why then this surprising queasiness,
not of repulsion but of something like remorse,
that comes on you without your guessing it,
till the thing that nagged you most – his laugh, perhaps –
becomes the very music that you miss,
or think you do, of want to, now he’s gone.
Yezzi’s first two collections, Sad is Eros and The Hidden Model, are on my 2009 reading list. If they’re the same level of quality as Azores, I expect Yezzi will be on next year’s Appr0ved Authors list as well.