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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 War II movies. Too often I find myselflet down at the ends ofBalaban’spoems. In “Passing Through Albuquerque,”for instance, we see a shack and a bony-kneed girl, we hear some American folk music, and then: “Moments like that, you can love this country.”That cloys. At “Kate and Gary’sBar, Red River, New Mexico”Kate sees that the speaker is not a mere drifter. When she finds out he writes poems, she smiles and says ‘“bring our friend another Coors.’”Maybe it’sjust that I don’t care that much for Coors, or maybe it is that as a child ofthe sixties I can’t shake off old ’dolph Coors’s rep as a mean-minded right-winger. Maybe, as we say sometimes, “it’sjust me.” RON MCFARLAND University ofIdaho Lookingfor theBlue Rose. ByVeneta Letham Nielsen. (Logan: Utah State Univer­ sity Press, 1990. 134 pages, $14.95.) Lookingfor the Blue Rose, a collection of poems, traces the wanderings of a witty, complex mind. The book’s thesis (if a book of poetry has a thesis) is that we become ourselves most completely in motion and in questioning. Ms. 378 WesternAmerican Literature Nielsen explores the physical universe in search of a lost Platonic world. While she never quite reaches this world (or the elusive “blue rose”), the search itself seems of value. The poems themselves abound with word-play: alliteration, punning, and classical/romantic allusions. The author frequently fractures syntax while pre­ serving sense, in a style reminiscent of Gerard Manley Hopkins. As in Hopkins, a religious dimension pervades many of the poems, for example “On the Christ Who Lives Within.”The poem “Tortoise”recalls Hopkins’s sprung rhythm and his vision of the things of this world, down to a line that reads, “inscape of mustard seed instead.” The tortoise is . . beautiful/ in being all and just the thing he is,”a verse echoing Hopkins’s “selves goes ourself.” These poems must be read slowly (and read several times) to be compre­ hended. This poet adopts manyvoices, some occasionally too erudite or too coy. Phrases like “to our needing wagon house” (from “Plains Cradle Song”) and “Some suddenlys we near” (from “The Hoverer”) fall below the level of the rest of the text. The density ofcertain lines sometimes interrupts the poems’flow, as do abrupt shifts in the poet’s mercurial voice. Endings seem flat or sentimental in several poems, most notably in “Swift to the Window” and “The May Re­ union.” The personal poems, some...


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pp. 377-378
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