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POETRY REVIEW RECENT POETRY SELECTIONS / Carolyne Wright Naomi Shihab Nye. Hugging the Jukebox. New York: E.P. Dutton (The National Poetry Series), 1982. Selected by Josephine Miles. 63 pages. $12.50 Cloth, $5.95 Paper. Alberto Rios. Whispering to Fool the Wind. New York: The Sheep Meadow Press (Walt Whitman Award for 1981), 1982. Selected by Donald Justice. 72 Pages. $13.95 Cloth, $5.95 Paper. David Wojahn. Icehouse Lights. New Haven: The Yale University Press (Yale Series of Younger Poets, #77), 1982. Selected by Richard Hugo. 69 Pages. $9.95 Cloth, $4.95 Paper. William Hathaway. The Gymnast of Inertia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982. 71 Pages. $12.95 Cloth, $5.95 Paper. Denis Johnson. The Incognito Lounge. New York: Random House (The National Poetry Series), 1982. Selected by Mark Strand. 79 Pages. $12.95 Cloth, $5.95 Paper. EACH OF THESE books is a recent winner or selection of a national competition; each is the first major publication for its author. All of the poets are young, and all live or have spent substantial portions of their lives in the Southwest or the South. To varying degrees they have allowed the imagery and modes of life particular to these regions to impress themselves upon their work. All (with a few formal exceptions) have written primarily in open form and rely on the freshness and quality of surprise of their images. Each poet has succeeded in varying measure in making the rhythms of the spoken phrase work for him. We can attribute such success in part to the "character" of the various speakers of the poems: their personalities, their senses of humor (or lack thereof), their degrees of isolation from or cohesion with the greater world of social and political relationships, as well as of the realm of nature. The speaker's character is of primary importance here because these poets themselves are, as often as not, their own major characters. Although this "solipsistic" speaking self, in its extremes, has been done to death in the work of the so-called "confessional" poets (Lowell, Sexton, Snodgrass, and the like) and even more so in the work of their imitators (whose names are legion), it is nonetheless a valuable stance for the poet whose first need is to face the world with only himself as focal point and fulcrum. The gap between isolated individual sensibility and the larger sensory universe used to be the sole terrain of the Romantic poets; now it is frequently an early (but not the only) phase of a younger writer's ongoing career. The poets here seem less concerned with getting out of their lives, The Missouri Review · 43 either through death or through metaphysical transcendence, than with entering more fully into them. In Icehouse Lights, David Wojahn expresses this motif as the struggle to come to terms with a sense of displacement from what he intuits his life should be: And we learn sometimes to accept our breath, calm and pale as milk in snow: I'm standing at the window where I'm always made to stand, where this life is sometimes my own. ("Ice-Mist") And in The Gymnast of Inertia, William Hathaway recognizes—after he and his children have watched acrobat Karl Wallenda plummet to his death on live television—that "there is no art in falling, the beauty/ is to stay" ("For the Soul of Karl Wallenda"), although he does concede, in a line that echoes Keats, that "I'm half in love with your easeful sleep." The staying power of the ordinary informs Naomi Shihab Nye's Hugging the Jukebox, a 1982 selection of the National Poetry Series. Commenting on her own work, Nye has written that her primary sources of poetry are "local life, random characters met on streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks." Of these five poets, she seems the most at home within the world ("I live like I know what I'm doing"), most confident of its accessibility and innate benevolence beneath the vicissitudes of human and natural existence: Out here it's impossible to be lonely. The land walking beside you is your oldest friend...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 41-62
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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