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376 WesternAmerican Literature TexasPoets in Concert:A Quartet. By R.S. Gwynn,Jan Epton Seale, Naomi Shihab Nye, and William Virgil Davis. (Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press, 1990. 128 pages, $9.95.) A string quartet assembles on stage, individuals who tune by cacophony but play in harmony; so begins a first reading of Texas Poets in Concert: A Quartet, a compilation from a 1988 creative writing conference at the University of North Texas. All four Southwest poets, who now reside in Texas, show less the influ­ ence of place (regionalism) than ofworld (universalism). R.S. Gwynn shapes his work with highly traditional forms and rhyme schemes, yet wittily and ironically speaks of contemporary subject matter. “A singles bar!. . . . It’s only/The mating ritual of Rolodexes.” In eleven poems, Gwynn moves from allusive academic to insightful intuitivist, from “Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins”to three Vietnam vets sent home in “Body Bags.” Jan Epton Seale, who cues her poems with “Believing Is Seeing,” shows a demonstrable influence of the Southwest landscape. “The land suffers its his­ tory out/in its people.”She sings imaginative old world “Songs of Mesa Verde” and new world songs “In Praise of Woman Chief,” always proposing “we go forward to go back.” Naomi Shihab Nye’s section, “Twenty Other Worlds,” travels both outer and inner landscapes to characterize the effects ofpeople on people. “Through the Kitchen Window, Chiapas”typifies Nye’sstance: “... we stare/... amazed by how close we can be/to what never sees us.”Asvoyeur and activist, Nye’s private experiences move in tandem with public life, as seen in “Olive Jar”; when a crossing guard questions where she travels in the Israeli West Bank, she replies “To a village of olives and almonds. To see my people.” The final writer, William Virgil Davis, presents “Winter Light”—short, spare, interior pieces that separate the world into light and dark. Emulating Wallace Stevens, Davis writes with few props or characters: “The light on the apple is a small window/reflecting the room . . . nothing without notice.” Advertise this book as “Four universes for the price of one,” in which disparate voices expose and explore contemporary life, seeking how we can live and come together. DEBORAH CLIFFORD GESSAMAN Logan, Utah Wordsfor My Daughter. ByJohn Balaban. (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon, 1991. 71 pages, $10.00.) John Balaban’s third collection, this one a National Poetry Series selection of W. S. Merwin, looks back to his alternative service in Vietnam with the Reviews 377 Committee of Responsibility to War-Injured Children, as do his two novels and two books of nonfiction. Director of the MFA program at Penn State, Balaban’s first book of poems, After Our War (1974), won a Lamont Award and was nominated for a National Book Award. The title poem, with which the book opens, shows him at his best, looking back to dramatic incidents of childhood violence, then to his own experiences at an operating table during the war, and then to his daughter’sfirst Halloween and a trick-or-treater dressed up as a Green Beret. Predictably, the speaker (Balaban himself) lashes out at the father. Indeed the ethos of this collection is predictable throughout. The social and political values are all “right there,’’just what they should be for a sensitive writer of Balaban’s (and my) generation. Certainly hisvision is compassionate, as Maxine Kumin suggests in her back cover blurb, whether he regards a suffering child on an operating table or a “grizzled duffer” in Middle America, or a dying deer. Given the above, I feel somewhat uncomfortable with my lack of enthusiasm. Perhaps the rhetorical strain is what detracts most from the impact of Balaban’s poems, more even than their “predictability.” Of course even Yeats was not able to avoid rhetorical gush when it came to his “A Prayer for My Daughter.”Balaban avoids it in the title poem till the end, but when it comes, the rhetoric is thick: “I want you to know the worst and be free from it. /I want you to know the worst and still find good.”This leaves me feeling as I do when watching certain World...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 376-377
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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