Outpouring of neighborly delights

Poetry Of The Region

March 31, 2002|By Rosemary Klein | Rosemary Klein,Specialto the Sun

The concept of grouping a musician's greatest hits has been a gold mine for decades. Can the concept work with poetry? Greatest Hits 1981-2000 by Robert Cooperman, part of The GOLD Invitational series published by Pudding House (28 pages, $8.95), invites you to answer. The volume highlights Cooperman's amazing diversity in shaping the historical past into the poetic present. In "For Annie Ney," a woman hides a stranger from the Nazis, "suspicion dancing in their skulls / narrow and vicious as Doberman pinschers."

Cooperman tackles the Jews' immigration in the 12th century to China, John Hudson ruminating on his father's 1612 exploration of the Northwest Passage, and -- prior to Robert Peary -- Matthew Henson standing at the Pole -- "that white disk / into which my blackness all but disappeared."

Behind its inventive title The Bullfrog Does Not Imagine New Towns (Washington Writers' Publishing House, $12) are 67 solid pages of poetry packaged in a beautifully designed book gracefully partitioned by photographs of the domineering clock that strode the top of the now dismantled Pennsylvania Shamokin Silk Mill.

In the management-writing-poems tradition of Wallace Stevens, Bernard Jankowski, Frederick businessman, writes deftly of people and of place. Each word seems so carefully chosen as to be a tiny flashlight shining momentarily on "the raincoated silence," on "Vietnam vets [who] battle traffic / with toothbrushes," or on "Fells Point waitresses / 'those heavenly little oven-stuffers.' "

A world in which "December has her own / caverns for the sun" and "Out in the fields, stalks mumble rosaries / beneath another snow" brushes past the senses, a world peopled by the "half-jaded, half-gone," the "women who chip away / at each other over a Woolworth's lunch," and the man who loves a woman who's 33 women -- "She descends the staircase / in her 33 shades of Duchamp / and you are gone / down her 33 roads, / kissing her 66 lips, / and listening to her 33 tongues."

Escaping Words (Washington Writers' Publishing House, 74 pages, $12) charts the familiar, most particularly nature and its rhythms, the family and its rhythms. Poetic sensibility has shaped the words in this book, where the poems often begin with a flourish that by their end slips into the pragmatic, the parochial.

Taking the cliche "the weeks fly by," Margaret Weaver teases the unexpected out of the ordinary; her countdown of days beginning "There is no telling them apart, / the Sundays Mondays that drain / into each other, not even keeping / their own blue or muddy colors / like the Mississippi and Ohio / where they merge." Of the family captured in photographs, she writes "Steam clouds almost hide / the grown-ups laden with baggage, dwarfed / by huge wheels," and when the family dead return as ghosts who won't be disappeared, she questions "What can we do but bury / and bury and bury again, / hold them down with holy water / and the smoking words of prayer."

Written in 10 couplets, "Ill Wind" recreates Hurricane Carol in such sensuous faithfulness that storm breathes down your neck and makes the hair raise. And in a fine poem, "The Moths Shall Eat Them Up," Weaver cleanly exposes the rotted bones at the heart of aging and dying, while mentioning neither: "slow nibblings at the fabric of being / till it tears like an old shirt, / too thin, too worn to be patched." Travel these poems and you'll find yourself in a place where "The semis grind down the hills hooting / brakes as they ride the yellow lines. / You can't look aside at the lake spangled / like summer, but this is the way to go."

And To The Republic is the first, and long overdue, book of poems by Blair Ewing (Argonne House Press, 111 pages, $14.95). Ewing uses every device at his disposal, including rhyme, allusions, oratory style and footnotes -- real and fictive -- in this sprawling book, where "poetry / reading as time travel" is the favored mode of journeying, and "the existence of at least one way / to walk both paths at once / has been confirmed" While many poets eschew the political, Ewing takes it on in poem after poem, more often than not with success. In "Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886)," Supreme Court justices are painted thus: "Wearing robes black and diaphanous as Satan's wings / nine white men blind to non-being / overturned controlling precedent / and gave birth to unnatural things." In "just another byte out of time," the wry observation is made that "tomorrow is a loaded gun / made right here in America, polished with love / and shipped with an instructional video."

Gary Blankenburg's poems rooted in the confessional tradition are beautifully showcased in At The Edge Of Beauty (Dolphin-Moon Press, unpaginated, $12). In the title poem, the second stanza shines: "I have always trembled / at the edge / of beauty, / have cowered / from its terrible / truth, / have always known / it just might make me / whole."

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