Monday, December 17, 2012


[N.B. You can scroll down on blog or click on highlighted titles or names to go directly to the referenced article.]


Eileen Tabios


Eileen Tabios engages THE COLLECTED POEMS OF LUCILLE CLIFTON 1965-2010, edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser

Sunnylynn Thibodeaux reviews FAULT TREE by kathryn l. pringle

Judith Goldman reviews FAULT TREE by kathryn l. pringle

Micah Cavaleri reviews STILL: OF THE EARTH AS THE ARK WHICH DOES NOT MOVE by Matthew Cooperman

Guillermo Parra reviews UNCERTAIN TIME by Richard Caddel, with an introduction by Aaron Tieger

Jeff Harrison engages LETTERS TO MADELEINE: TENDER AS MEMORY by Guillaume Apollinaire, edited by Lawrence Campa, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith

Bill Scalia reviews MAYBE A PAINTER by Christina Fisher

Jean Vengua reviews RING OF BONE: LEW WELCH COLLECTED POEMS, edited by Donald Allen

Burt Kimmelman reviews DIVINE MADNESS by Paul Pines

Lucy Biederman reviews RE- by Kristi Maxwell

Eileen Tabios engages MAY APPLE DEEP by Michael Sikkema

jim mccrary reviews CAPTAIN POETRY’S SUCKER PUNCH: A GUIDE TO THE HOMERIC PUNKHOLE, 1980-2012 by Kenneth Warren

Lucy Biederman reviews NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL by Harmony Holiday

Garrett J. Brown reviews MAP OF THE HYDROGEN WORLD by Steve Halle

Jaime Townsend reviews HART ISLAND by Stacy Szymaszek  

Tom Hibbard reviews FOUR PAINTINGS by Guy Beining

Bill Scalia reviews BODY OF WATER by Erin M. Bertram

Eileen Tabios engages ANGLES OF INCIDENTS by Jon Curley

Tom Beckett reviews DECK OF DEEDS by Rodrigo Toscano

Allen Strous reviews IT CAN BE SOLVED BY WALKING by Jennifer Wallace

Patrick James Dunagan reviews BEYOND THE CHAMELEON’S SKILL by Darius Cooper

Eileen Tabios engages BENDING AT THE ELBOW by Matyei Yankelevich

Jeannine Hall Gailey reviews EVERY DRESS A DECISION by Elizabeth Austen


Bill Scalia reviews ABSOLUTE ELSEWHERE by James Davies and Simon Taylor

Gayle Romasanta reviews FOR THE CITY THAT NEARLY BROKE ME by Barbara Jane Reyes

Bill Scalia reviews THE SILVER BOOK by Jen Bervin

Eileen Tabios engages COMMON TIME by Chris Pusateri

Tom Beckett reviews PORTRAIT AND DREAM: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Bill Berkson

Bill Scalia reviews RUST OR GO MISSING by Lily Brown

Eileen Tabios engages ARDOR: POEMS OF LIFE by Janine Canan

Henry W. Leung reviews PHYLA OF JOY by Karen An-hwei Lee


Neil Leadbeater reviews ISLANDS IN THE BLOOD by Geoff Stevens

Mirna Perrin-Louis reviews “Heart as Arena” from THE FEELING IS ACTUAL by Paolo Javier

Eileen Tabios engages CLOUDFANG :: CAKEDIRT by Daniela Olszewska

John Bloomberg-Rissman engages BAN by Bhanu Kapil

Jon Curley reviews USELYSSES by Noel Black

Nicholas T. Spatafora reviews THE SHEPHERD’S ELEGY by John C. Goodman

Patrick James Dunagan reviews ON THE PLANET WITHOUT VISA: SELECTED POEMS AND OTHER WRITINGS AD 1960-2012 by Sotére Torregian

rob mclennan reviews AS LONG AS TREES LAST by Hoa Nguyen

Neil Leadbeater reviews A PARTIAL VIEW TOWARD NAZARETH by Kathryn Rantala

rob mclennan reviews THUNDERBIRD by Dorothea Lasky

Neil Leadbeater reviews THE WHITE CALF KICKS by Deborah Slicer

Jeffery Beam reviews APPROXIMATING DIAPASON by j/j hastain and tod thilleman

Eileen Tabios engages CUTTING TIME WITH A KNIFE by Michael Leong

Patrick James Dunagan reviews, viz “Random Diptych,” MATCHING SKIN by Shirlette Ammons, A COINCIDENCE OF WANTS by Michelle Detorie, THRONE by Michael Cross and MAJAKOVSKIJ EN TRAGEDY by Johannes Göransson

Genevieve Kaplan reviews, viz “Random Diptych” EARTHQUAKE CAME TO HARLEM by Jackie Sheeler and GLASS IS REALLY A LIQUID by Bruce Covey

 Lucy Biederman engages, viz “Random Diptych,” PARTYKNIFE by Dan Magers and AUTOPSY TURVY by Thomas Fink & Maya Diablo Mason



“Engaging My Trans” by j/j hastain



Edric Mesmer and Matthew Hall review DESIRING MAP by Megan Kaminski, FLASH BANG by James Cummins, GLOSS TO CARRIERS by Ian Heames, HGFED.JANVr; SOME STARSs by Jo Cook, THE KATECHON: LINES 101-200 by Michael Cross, PEACHES AND BATS, Issue 9, Spring 2012 edited by Sam Lohmann, THE RELATIONAL ELATIONS     of ORPHANED ALGEBRA by Eileen R. Tabios & j/j hastain, SORRY YOU’RE OCCUPIED: SPONTANEOUS ORDER, edited by James Louden, WHEREIN? HE ASKS OF MEMORY by Jeremy Balius, WORDS ON EDGE by Michael Leong

John Olson reviews WHERE SHADOWS WILL: SELECTED POEMS 1988-2008 by Norma Cole



This issue is dedicated to Beatriz Tilan Tabios (1930-2012)  who was ever-supportive of my (often fanciful and/or idealistic) ideas, thus occasionally reviewing for Galatea Resurrects.  R.I.P., Mom…


Thanks as ever to GR's numerous, generous volunteer staff of reviewers. In addition to some wonderful feature articles, we have 68 NEW POETRY REVIEWS this issue!

Poetry has enhanced my love of lists so here are GR's latest poetry-lovin' stats!

Issue 1: 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 39 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice by different reviewers)
Issue 3: 49 new reviews (two projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 4: 61 new reviews (one project was reviewed thrice, and three projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 5: 56 new reviews (four projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 6: 56 new reviews (one project was reviewed twice)
Issue 7: 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 64 new reviews (3 projects were each reviewed twice)
Issue 9: 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 68 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice and 1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 11: 72 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice)
Issue 12: 87 new reviews (1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 13: 55 new reviews (1 project was reviewed twice)
Issue 14: 64 new reviews (3 projects were reviewed twice)
Issue 15: 72 new reviews (1 project was reviewed thrice and 4 projects were reviewed twice)
Issue 16: 73 new reviews (2 projects were reviewed twice)
Issue 17: 108 new reviews (3 projects were reviewed twice)
Issue 18: 104 new reviews (3 projects were reviewed twice)
Issue 19: 68 new reviews (1 project was reviewed twice)


Some Thoughts For Future Issues: While the core of Galatea Resurrects is likely to remain poetry book reviews, GR’s vision is not so much book reviews but offering new ways and opportunities to engage with poetry.  So please consider this a reminder that you need not write a book review to be published in GR.  For example, you can do a close reading of a single poem from a poetry book.  You might even discuss a poetry reading rather than a poetry publication.  Or review a visual art exhibition, videos, etc. that has some link(s) to poetry. You might even round up a pal or several pals to discuss a poem or book or other poetry project.  In this issue, we—rather, John Bloomberg-Rissman—even review a manuscript-in-progress, BAN by Bhanu Kapil, since the in-progress manuscript is publicly available (in this case, through the author’s blog).  And Tom Hibbard engages with four paintings by a poet—Guy Beining—because GR is open to "reviewing" any output in any genre by a poet.  So please feel free to think of different ways with which one might engage in poetry!


As of Issue No. 19, we are pleased to report that GR has provided 1,201 new reviews of publications and other poetry projects and 89 reprinted reviews (to bring online reviews previously available only viz print or first published in now-defunct online sites). With this issue, we increased our coverage of poetry publishers by 23 to 460 publishers in 17 countries. This is important as I feel that much of the ground-breaking poetry work is being published by independent and/or relatively small presses who (by the nature of their work) are not always as well-known as they deserve to be. 

I continue to encourage authors/publishers to send in your projects for potential review—note that because we believe in Poetry's immortality, GR does not limit reviews to just "recent" poetry publications. And, obviously, people are following up with your submissions! Information for submissions and available review copies HERE. Future reviewers also should note that the next review submission deadline is April 12, 2013.

Of reviewed publications, the following were generated from review copies sent to GR:

Issue 1: 9 out of 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 25 out of 39 new reviews
Issue 3: 27 out of 49 new reviews
Issue 4: 41 out of 61 new reviews
Issue 5: 34 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 6: 35 out of 56 new reviews
Issue 7: 41 out of 51 new reviews
Issue 8: 35 out of 64 new reviews
Issue 9: 42 out of 65 new reviews
Issue 10: 46 out of 68 new reviews
Issue 11: 46 out of 72 new reviews
Issue 12: 35 out of 87 new reviews
Issue 13: 38 out of 55 new reviews
Issue 14: 40 out of 64 new reviews
Issue 15: 43 out of 72 new reviews
Issue 16: 49 out of 73 new reviews
Issue 17: 73 out of 108 new reviews
Issue 18: 84 out of 104 new reviews
Issue 19: 41 out of 68 new reviews


This issue contains a special feature I’m calling “Random Diptych.”  For this section, three poet-critics accepted my invitation to review two books together, with such books chosen at random from GR’s shelves of review copies.  “Random Diptych” presents a special challenge as, in addition to reviewing the individual book, the review also must read each book in the company of the other.  Thanks to Patrick James Dunagan (who, as it turned out, wrote more than a diptych’s worth as the second publication incorporates three different poetry collections), Genevieve Kaplan and Lucy Biederman for taking on the challenge!


As I've said before, your Editor is blind, so if there are typos/errors in the issue, just email Moi at or put in the comments sections and I will swiftly correct said mistakes (since such is allowed by Blogger).


All of us at Galatea hope you enjoy the issue!  Happy Holidays!

With much love, poetry, vino and fur,

Eileen Tabios
St. Helena, CA
Dec. 17, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012



The following books by Clarice Lispector:

Near to the Wild Heart (Perto de selvage), translated by Alison Entrekin

The Passion According to G.H. (A Paixăo segundo G.H.), translated by Idra Novey

Aqua Viva (Áqua Viva), translated by Stefan Tobler

A Breath of Life (Um sopro de vida; pulsações), translated by Johnny Lorenz

(All published by New Directions, New York, 2012)

Daughter of a Jewish family who fled Europe following the First World War, Clarice Lispector was initially raised in northeastern Brazil. Her mother having died when she was nine, the family moved to Rio de Janeiro where she began attending law school while earning money as a journalist. Her first novel, Perto de selvage took Brazil by storm – the interior monologue revolutionary for Brazil. She spent time in Europe and the United States before returning to Brazil in 1959 where she wrote one of her masterpieces A Paixăo segundo G.H. Thanks to New Directions, these novels are again before the reading public.

In his introduction to Near to the Wild Heart, Benjamin Moser quotes the response of several unnamed Brazilian critics to this seminal work, such as that Lispector had “shifted the center of gravity around which the Brazilian novel had been revolving for about twenty years.” Moser goes on to state:

This was because the entire question of Brazil, that ‘certain instinct of nationality’ Machado de Assis considered to be the heart of Brazilian literature, is absent from Near to the Wild Heart. It was that its language did not sound Brazilian.

He then goes on to describe the basis of this new language:

It is instead connected to the sacred realms of sexuality and creation. A word does not describe a pre-existing thing but actually is that thing, or a word that creates the thing it describes; the search for the mystic word, the ‘word that has its own light’, is the search of a lifetime. That search was an urgent preoccupation of centuries of Jewish mystics. Just as God, in Clarice’s writing is utterly devoid of any moral meaning, so does language signify nothing beyond what it expresses: ‘the symbol of the thing in the thing itself.’

Near to the Wild Heart opens with the protagonist, Joana, a young child living with her mother and father. Lispector captures this time of life splendidly in the following interior monologue::

She went off making a little braid in her long, straight hair. Never never never yes yes, she sang quietly. She had recently learned to braid. She went over to the little table where the books were, played with them by looking at them from a distance. Housewife husband children, green for the man, white for the woman, scarlet could be a son or a daughter. Was “never” a man or a woman? Why wasn’t “never” a son or a daughter? What about “yes”?(7)

 First the mother, then the father dies young leaving Joana an orphan who goes to live with her aunt and uncle. Joana refuses to obey her aunt leading to this altercation between aunt and uncle:

“It’s different! It’s different!” exploded the aunt victoriously. “Amanda, even if she were a thief, is human! But that girl...There isn’t anyone to feel sorry for in this case, Alberto. I’m the one who’s the victim...Even when Joana isn’t in the house, I feel on edge. It sounds crazy, but it’s as if she were watching me...reading my thoughts...She’s a viper. She’s a cold viper. Alberto, there’s no love or gratitude in her.(43)

Eventually, Joana marries Otávio, her childhood sweetheart, which leads to divorce when Joana discovers that Otávio has fathered a child with Lydia. All of this would be rather mundane if not for the fact that Lispector is the author. The story occupies a realm of thought that few writers have been able to approach. All writers have experienced the exaltation when their bodies disappear only to become conduits to their soul, when the words flow without impediment, almost unconsciously, onto the page. Generally, such moments are short lived.  Lispector is able to sustain them and summon them at will.  Here is an example from early in the novel:

Things that exist, others that just are...She surprised herself with the new, unexpected thought, which would live from then on like flowers on the grave. Which would live, which would live, other thoughts would be born and live and she herself was more alive. Happiness pierced her heart, ferocious, lit her body. She squeezed the glass between her fingers, drank water with her eyes closed as if it was wine, bloody and glorious wine, the blood of God.(54)

These lines flow with a kinetic energy lifting Joana above her circumstances until she herself becomes exalted taking the place of that god whose blood she drank as this passage reveals:

 She was detached from things, from her own things, created by herself and alive. She could be left in the desert, in the solitude of the glaciers, any place on Earth and she would still have the same white, fallen hands, the same almost serene disconnectedness.(169)

This spiritual energy spills in a different and unique way into The Passion according to G.H.

G.H., the name by which we come to know the protagonist, defines herself as a three-legged person: “The idea I had of what a person is came from my third leg, the one that pinned me to the ground.”(4) This third leg is never defined although a good guess would be that it is fear: “In this new cowardice of mine – cowardice is the newest thing to happen to me, it’s my greatest adventure, this cowardice of mine is a field so wide that only the great courage leads me to accept it – in my new cowardice, which is like waking one morning in a foreigner’s house, I don’t know if I’ll have the courage just to go.”(4) The reader should note the development in the language Lispector uses between Near the Wild Heart and The Passion according to G.H. No longer is this simple internal monologue, no longer stream of consciousness. It has become directed.

We encounter G.H. one morning jaded by her wealth into a melancholic lethargy. She decides to go into the maid’s room to organize. When she enters, she discovers outlines of figures on the wall. While cleaning and organizing, she opens an armoire. Inside is a cockroach. The cucaracha begins crawling toward the opening of the armoire and G.H. slams the door on it. However, it has gotten half way out so that the head protrudes from the door while the body is crushed. This is the essence of The Passion. G.H. becomes trapped in the room and spends the next one hundred and fifty pages staring at the beast and contemplating her fate in a fit of ecstasy equivalent to Saint Augustine’s Confessions or the contemplation of Meister Eckhart or, on a more secular plane, the Marquis de Sade. Lispector carefully controls this ecstasy as it gathers momentum the further into the novel one goes. Here is the scene where G.H. is getting ready to organize:

A step before climax, a step before revolution, a step before what’s called love. A  step before my life – which, due to a kind of  reverse magnetism, I hadn’t transformed into life; and also out of  desire for order. There’s a bad taste to the disorder of living.(20)

Here an encounter with the cockroach:

Meeting the face I had put inside the opening, right near my eyes, in the half-darkness, the fat cockroach had moved. My cry was so muffled that only the contrasting silence let me know I hadn’t screamed. The scream had stayed beating in my chest.(39)

She begins to transform the roach:

Looking at it, I was seeing the vastness of the desert of Libya, in the region of Elschele. The roach that had reached that spot millennia before me, and also reached it before the dinosaurs. Faced with the roach, I could already see in the distance Damascus, the oldest city on the earth. In the desert of Libya, roaches and crocodiles? All that time I hadn’t wanted to think what I had already thought: that the roach is edible as a lobster, the roach is a crustacean.(116)

until finally the roach becomes God. This gives rise to one of the most spellbinding scenes in all of literature. G.H. falls in love with the roach – not with a love ruled by eros bur rather one of agape: “The profound tedium – like a great love – united us.” While all of this is going on, pus from the roach’s crushed body has been forming on its head.  It is this pus that becomes the site of transformation:

I haven’t told how, sitting there and unmoving, I still had not stopped looking with great disgust, yes, still with disgust at the yellowed white paste atop the roach’s grayness.  And I knew that as long as I was disgusted, the world would elude me and I would elude me. I knew that the basic error in living was being disgusted by a roach. Being disgusted by kissing the leper was my erring the first life within me – since being disgusted contradicts me, contradicts my matter within me.

But there is something even more disgusting to come.

There is only one way to comprehend The Passion according to G.H. – as an allegory. To G.H., the ‘yellowed white paste’ becomes the wafer used in the transubstantiation of the host. But why the cockroach? Because we know essentially nothing about G.H. other than that she is ‘three-legged’, we cannot assume she is Christian. We do know that Lispector was Jewish, a Jew, in fact, attempting to exist in not only a Christian country but a Catholic country. There is always an attraction to the unknown, to the different, an attraction often accompanied by fear. So why not have Christianity transform into the ugliness of a roach, a roach with a pool of pus forming on its head in the shape of a wafer, a roach both attractive and abhorrent for the same reason – the roach’s sheer ugliness.

Thirty years after the writing of Near to the Wild Heart, Lispector wrote Áqua Viva. Benjamin Moser, in his introduction, says that “Of all Clarice Lispector’s works, Áqua Viva gives the strongest impression of having been spontaneously committed to paper. Yet perhaps none was as painstakingly composed.” Moser goes on to say that “to a Brazilian the words [aqua viva] will first of all refer to a jellyfish’ - a floating thing without backbone. It is this that made Lispector hesitate in having it published. As she stated, “That book, I spent three years without daring to publish it, thinking it would be awful. Because it didn’t have a story, it didn’t have a plot.” But that is not that far from the two books already considered in this review. In Lispector’s work, plot is minimal. Moser refers to Olga Borelli, Lispector’s editor, when he says, “As Borelli understood, this ‘spineless’ writing is not random, or even abstract. Instead, its consistency more properly belongs to the realm of dreams, in which ideas and images connect with a logic that may not be immediately apparent but is nonetheless real.” Haven’t all of the Lispector works under consideration belonged to that dream realm?

But let’s concentrate on the language of Áqua Viva for, without plot, without story, what else is there? But the language is enough as this passage demonstrates:

during love the impersonal jewel of the moment shines in the air, the strange glory of the body, matter made feeling in the trembling of the instants – and the feeling is both immaterial and so objective that it seems to happen outside your body, sparkling on high, joy, joy is time’s material and the essence of the instant. And in the instant is the is of the instant.  I want to seize my is. And like a bird I sing hallelujah into the air. And my song belongs to no one. But no passion suffered in pain and love is not followed by a hallelujah.(4)

If one can write like this, who needs a plot?

Lispector remains conscious of that which she creates even though she denies it. She knows the difficulty of acceptance:

I don’t know what I’m writing about: I am obscure to myself. I only had initially a lunar and lucid vision, and so I plucked for myself the instant before it died and perpetually dies. This is not a message of ideas that I am transmitting to you but an instinctive ecstasy of whatever is hidden in nature and that I foretell. And this is a feast of words. I write in signs that are more a gesture than a voice.(17)

Lispector does continue the theme she has explored in the earlier two books as this passage reveals:

The transcendence inside me is the living and soft ‘it’ and has the thought that an oyster has. Could the oyster when torn from its roots feel anxiety? It is disturbed in its life without eyes. I used to drip lemon juice onto the living oyster and watched in horror and fascination as it contorted all over. And I was easting the living it. The living it is God.(24)

Toward the end, in a passage she labels ‘On the edge of beatitude’, she writes:

When you see, the act of seeing has no form -- what you see sometimes has form and sometimes doesn’t. The act of seeing is ineffable. And sometimes what is seen is also ineffable. And that’s how it is with a certain kind of thinking-feeling that I’ll call ‘freedom,’ just to give it a name. Real freedom – as an act of perception – has no form. And as the true thought thinks to itself, this kind of thought reaches its objective in the very act of thinking.(81-2)

Although there are moments where the energy lags – particularly in the long litany of flower names and lore – for the most part Lispector maintains a kinetic charge unsurpassed by others.

The final book in this quartet of translations by New Directions, A Breath of Life, presents difficulties for the reviewer. This is a posthumous publication which Benjamin Moser describes as “unfinished and hieratic”. What was “a mountain of fragments: which “remained to be ‘structured’ by a trusted friend”, as the back cover states – that friend being Olga Borelli who lived with and was Lispector’s secretary for the last eight years of her life and who assembled the fragments into the form we have here. The difficulty is determining who wrote what. Can a reviewer feel secure in praising a passage of prose without being confident whose prose she is praising? I have chosen to opt out of reading this book as, to me, the answer to that question is “No!” This doesn’t mean that the book isn’t worth reading. However, I felt that if I did begin to read it, I would have to comment on it with all of the incumbent insecurity of so doing.

New Directions deserves, as always, a heart-felt thank you from the literary community for undertaking the monumental task of translating these four works.


John Herbert Cunningham is the host of Speaking of Poets heard every Sunday starting at 4:30  p.m.  CST on CKUW 95.9 FM or by podcast on the CKUW website. He has written two plays, Innocent and Waiting for  ‘Waiting  for Left’. He is writing a novel, The  Professor, and a poetry manuscript based  on  the  diary of Samuel Hearne, an 18th C Canadian explorer. He reviews poetry, poetics, and fiction extensively.



William Bronk: Bursts of Light: The Collected Later Poems, edited by David Clippinger
(Talisman Publishers, Greenfield, MA, 2012)

“Disdain for Cheap Solace”

Former Poet Laureate Kay Ryan writes that she likes to pick up William Bronk’s big book of poems Life Supports and read a poem at random: “For me they’re like the small brown bottle my grandmother carried in her purse and sniffed for the pick-me-up jolt. . . . However little you thought you’d been trafficking in surfaces and ornament,” she writes “and however cleansed of illusions you believed yourself to be . . . Bronk takes them off like paint stripper. . . . The experience is religious in its ferocity and disdain for cheap solace.”

Life Supports was Bronk’s first collected poems, for which he won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1982. Bronk had by then published at least 15 books, the first by Cid Corman’s Origin Press in 1956. That and his second book were published to so little comment that he nearly ceased publishing. His second book brought him one letter, a complimentary one from poet Charles Olson. Most of Bronk’s early books were published in limited editions by Elizabeth Press, New Rochelle, New York, owned by his friend and fellow poet James L. Weill. Many of the rest of his books were published by literary or small presses: New Directions, Burning Deck, Sceptre Press, Graywolf Press, Grosseteste, William Ewert, Red Ozier, and Asphodel. Life Supports and three other books were published by North Point Press. From 1996 until this 2012 Bursts of Light, Bronk’s books have been published or republished by Talisman House, Publishers.

Bronk (1918 to 1999) was born in Fort Edward, New York, in 1918, later moving to Hudson Falls, New York. He was descended from the man for whom The Bronx is named. Bronk was graduated in 1938 from Dartmouth College and did a semester of graduate study at Harvard. He served in the Army in World War II, a draftee who then went to Officer Candidate School. After the war he taught at Union College in Schenectady, New York, from 1945 into 1946 but returned to Hudson Falls, taking over the family’s coal and lumber company there—after his father’s death. He ran the company for 38 years. Bronk later remarked that, although he had enjoyed teaching English at Union College, teaching would not have left him the time or the energy to write. His poems were created in his mind during the course of business, he said, then, when they were worked out, written down in longhand. He rarely revised or even modified a poem. He was awarded the Lannan Literary Award for poetry in 1991.

Kay Ryan’s view that Bronk’s poems are spare and rarely given to illusion—or to an illusion not admitted as such—seems very accurate. She calls his approach “hard not to call brave.” Here is an entire poem:


The mind isn’t the one to decide; it’s overruled
on all the important questions, has to keep
its counsel and be told afterwards how it

was right as it knew all along and, of course,
it’s too late then and that’s the important thing:
the mind wasn’t in on the decision made. No,

it knows that something else is going on
and it well might wonder what that something is.
The mind’s an outsider; the mind will never know.

This is from the poem “EVEN DON’T”:

                                                                        I’m glad
of my ignorance, that I don’t need to know
and even what ignorance told me wasn’t enough.
The sidelines is where I am, relieved
of those responsibilities we wish
we had. Use me, life, or even don’t.

Some of his poems, as poet and Zen priest Philip Whalen wrote of his own, are like a graph of the mind’s movement. The poems are so straightforward that you’re tempted to amend Whalen to: “like a simple graph of the mind’s movement:”


We don’t have to know that the game score
is unimportant; we can go on thinking as if
it weren’t or were. I don’t care how big
we make the game—mondial or more,
say metaphysical—it’s still play.
I can’t think what else there is to do;
reality has left us out, neglects
to tell us even what goes on. Play ball!

Bronk can sound, in content and in thought, like a postmodern deconstructionist, except that he writes a direct and largely unadorned version of plain speech. Here are two poems from the same page of Bursts of Light:


When the train comes, I remember to lift my arm
and wave to the engineer. He smiles at me
and his hand waves back. His shiny tracks
recede to a distant point just as they should.
His various cars are firmly articulated.
The conductor checks his watch. The schedule is sure.


It’s one thing to learn the terms of the actual world
and make a kind of sense from that as though
the actual world exists—oh, we say it does,
our sense depends on it. Nonsense to pare
that. I do nonsensical things: how
should I speak about a world whose existence as world
I don’t even claim and couldn’t? For which I don’t
have terms? I don’t know; but it’s where we are
if we need to say we are. I like it here.

I once stood at Fort Edward, New York, with my wife and two young sons, waiting for the northbound Adirondack Amtrak train toward Plattsburgh. It is a near-whistle stop now. What strikes me about Bronk’s “FORT EDWARD” poem is its meticulous but oddly distanced observations. “I remember to lift my arm” “his hand waves back” and that “just as they should.”

“SHORT TERMS” shares this direct, simple language, but it addresses an epistemology of ignorance. Elsewhere Bronk wrote that “we live in the permanence of ignorance.” This is not, I take it, a nihilistic assertion, but an admission and a refusal to entertain illusion. The French philosopher of the history of science Gaston Bachelard held that scientific knowledge, for example, is not progressive and always self-correcting, but rather is given to what we might call “restarts” or “cold boots.” A new discovery reorders all and occasions a start from scratch. In the field of natural resources stewardship, for example, the major problems of this generation—too much past suppression of wildlands fire, killing off too many predators—derive from what was  “the best science” of the prior generation. We should have no illusion, following Bronk’s lead, that aspects of our generation’s best science won’t likewise complicate things for the next generation.

In the sciences, it’s the mind’s rigor and skill
which, themselves, make the illusion as long as it lasts.
We circle to another angle; try there.
The imperative is knowledge or so it seems;
what we want instead is the ultimate ignorance.

and this complete poem:


Science is grand, it deals with what we know.
Believers also know and charlatans
claim secret knowledge. All knowing leans away.
Still, at the center, is our ignorance.

In the following complete poem, from his last book Metaphor of Trees, he says much the same thing, but introduces the role of desire. As novelist Jeanette Winterson writes in her nonfiction book Art Objects—whose “Objects” can be read as noun and verb—every fact is also an act of desire.


Reality isn’t real. Why do we look?
We look because the real is the shape of desire:
that the world be real and we a person in it.
We believe our beliefs to pretend that that should be
or abide a world whose reality isn’t real.
As to the final sentence in “SHORT TERMS,” above, “I like it here.”: Bronk’s poet friend from the early 1950s, Robert Creeley, wrote of Bronk: “‘Here’ is the only place he ever was.”

One quibble with Talisman House, Publishers: This book has many typos, making you stop and try to figure out how the line should read. The software’s spell-checking feature would have caught many of the errors.


Ed Zahniser’s poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines in the U.S. and U.K.; seven anthologies; four books, and three chapbooks. With Shepherdstown (WV) Poet Laureate Georgia Lee McElhaney, Ed has co-edited an anthology of area poets for Shepherdstown’s 250th Anniversary Celebration, with major funding from a community grant from the Arts and Humanities Alliance—AHA!—of Jefferson County, WV. Four Seasons Books is publishing the anthology as well as Ed’s book of three long poems, also for the town’s 250th, At Betty’s Restaurant Thomas Shepherd Loves Danke Dandrige and The Shepherdstown Sonnets. Both books are designed and produced by Heather Watson of the studio Pernot and Tatlin,