Estes & Waldrep
Speaking of reviews, Stephen Burt likes a couple of books I also like, by two people I know fairly well. Well, I’ve driven around Columbus with Angie Estes, and published her poems several times, and I’ve written a manuscript with G.C., so I’m not exactly an objective source, therefore, rather than have me talk glowingly about them, I’ll just reprint the short Burt reviews from the New York Times (and you can go buy their books, if you've haven't already):
By G. C. Waldrep.
Tupelo, paper, $16.95.
Waldrep’s title denotes an antique keyboard instrument with 24, or many more, keys per octave. Notoriously hard to play, such instruments made subtle and challenging music, with notes a conventional score could not include. Waldrep’s sometimes bewildering, often exciting prose poems make their own unconventional music, replete with slippages, repetitions, suggestions: “Every sound is tropical, every sound is perishable,” he writes. “My aunt sends one wrapped in butcher paper & string.” Most poems take quizzical titles from musical terms (“What Is a Threnody,” “What Is a Motet”), and most take rhetorical gifts from Gertrude Stein; yet Waldrep’s poems, far more than Stein’s, revel in the variety of their subjects. Some include clear scenes and characters, as when the poet helps a boy cross a cold road: “we walked slowly, because he was not yet done with being five.” The poet also leavens his intricate compositions with self-consciously playful asides: “Nothing is what it appears to be, I say. To which you reply, yes it is.” Waldrep (who studied the labor movement for his Ph.D. in American history) attends to the meaning of work, to the hardships of lives unlike his own: “Who Was Scheherazade” begins “My job was to pick rocks.” Yet his great triumphs combine such outward sympathies with self-conscious attention to inward oddities, to fleeting thoughts, to the vectors of energy in abstract words: “If I subtract sacrifice from appetite from what fierce attention do I then compromise a strict union, have I faltered, have I made an argument for grace.”
By Angie Estes.
Oberlin College, paper, $15.95.
Gleeful and gorgeous, delighted by puns and other wordplay (including words from French, Latin and Italian), Estes’s fast-paced free verse, rich with internal rhyme, takes rightful pride in the beauties it flaunts and explains. Her fourth collection finds, for recurrent motifs, saints’ lives, medieval manuscripts, gold leaf and the alphabet: “hearts bloom / out of Ds like lamb chop sleeves / in the script of the fifteenth-century / scribe”; in a gilded Book of Hours, “the letters / have fallen out of the words and lie / scattered on the ground.” Each deft poem weaves together multiple topics — some art-historical, others autobiographical — through chains of homonyms and knotty analogies: “Take Cover” skates from the French “couvre feu, cover the fire” (the origin for our word “curfew”) to disheveled bedcovers and 1950s-style duck-and-cover drills. Though Estes revels in European reference (Dante, Trieste, Greta Garbo), her matchless hunger for experience makes her indelibly American: “how the tongue / keeps lapping the world’s / loot,” she exclaims, “even in the 499th lap / of the Indy 500.” The arts — from Cimabue’s painting to haute cuisine — are for Estes never mere luxuries; rather, the arts, and our pride in them, give us the only effective countermeasures to loneliness, helplessness and serious pain. And pain — remembered or feared — is always somewhere: “So Near Yet So Far” connects a lunar eclipse, a film starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, a concept from high-energy plasma physics and “the necklace / of pearls my father bought my mother / for their forty-fifth wedding / anniversary, which she made him / take back.”