Very intriguing to follow up Rob Winger’s Muybridge’s Horse with Steven Price’s Anatomy of Keys. Both debut books from authors unknown to this reader, both falling into the category of “long poem,” or “book length” poem; both engaging with historical figures, but otherwise very different. In fact, in some ways, while they don’t identify the opposite ends of the long poem/prose or poetry debate, they do provide some useful counterpoints.
To be pointed, the poetic elements I yearned for in Winger’s book abound in Price’s. Here is a text in which the author appears and entangles, in which the author takes great leaps, stretching the narrative into a variety of philosophical and perhaps even moral, investigations, skittering as if the text were a great sheet of ice and reveling in alliteration and the reinvention of words. Fitting for a text about an illusionist. (Is it just me, or has Job from Arrested Development completely altered the word “illusionist?” Difficult to shake the residue of his performance–which, come on, has to be one of the great ones? But no, contemporary television does not belong in poetry, nor in a review of poetry… I have no idea why there are so many asides in this, which after all, is a serious review of a serious book…. Really. I’m sorry.)
Okay, yes, it’s fitting for a text about an illusionist, this investigation of not only the language, but the poetic, which Price seems to be as open to scrutinizing as he is flaunting its inner elbows. And yes, I mean elbows, because this writing is not just muscular it’s erotic and gymnastic: you get these intimacies
All autumn I lay between them, tangled in their cot
like a stiff, shrunken limb
and direct addresses: “be wayfarer, be water in this life,” you get beautiful word groupings, a “snort of horses,” a “slaughtered ruck of meat,” and then “his dark arched carriage creaks across this page/and halts.” Wondrous leaps.
What matters more to this reader than school of poetry is craft of poetry, and no matter what corner of the ring you start, or end up, it’s the dance, the time in the ring that proves the text–lyric or non. This is a well-crafted text, full of play, full of questioning, very low doses of sentimentality. In fact it was a rare note I found “They say that blood-oranges/ weep when peeled…” for instance, but Price doesn’t let that hang in the air, pregnant, he digs a rough thumb in and pushes deeper, deeper into the idea of blood, of tears, of surface, of words and their sonic relationship, as much as the gait of meaning.
This is one fine book. I have notes on every other page, and most of them pleasant responses, some questions–some wonderings about who is where and why. But largely they are scrawls of delight:
the stories key could tell,
still, of the rusted throats of cells, skeletal keys,
and keys knuckled like fingers, keys harsh-voiced
and stunned like a blaze of cold bells…
and of love
She’d tie his wrists
in sackcloth, tug
and lash each fist.
The burlap sagged.
Readers of this blog will think that I have nothing but love for the fall books we have darting at us with tremendous speed and frequency. Given the number that have not made an impression I would guess that the percentage discussed is still relatively low, but I admit there have been some strong offerings, and perhaps more delightful because I hadn’t anticipated them.