I couldn’t agree more with Jonathan that Own Face is an indispensible book of poetry (I would make the same claim for at least half of everything else Coolidge has written), and that “Beyond,” which he (just slightly mis-) quotes, is one of the best poems in it:
the black cat
had got too light
and had to be diminished
to be discarded
he never would wear
the suit I bought him
the suit of shoes
Other highlights of the collection for me are “Cavemen” (“A caveman thinks if a rock were / moved his life would be ended”), “Losing My Place” (“The movies are a world of nothing, but streams / over the head, what you make of it”), “Face the Wall” (“Then a Ciceronian, / of pedal nose, who thunders eyeless”), “Capon” (“How can I live in a house / such of my own mistaking / reside”), and “A Note”:
I think then I live in a world of silence.
The language has become lodged in itself a background,
wall of rock, black and resistant as basalt, then sometimes
as viscous as heavy grease, poetry must be reached into
and rested from in a cry. Meaning is now a mixture, it
recedes to itself a solid fix of knowledge. The words
of poems, once rested from the mass, cry shrilly and singly,
then spring back to that magnetic ore body of silence.
The longest poem has become a brief crack into light and sound.
The candle flame through the sliver hums but must be tricked,
wrested out for a mere tick in the radium dark.
The rest is all a walk in stillness, on the parade of
the tombs of meaning. Or is this all still the highest ledge?
Coolidge is one of the few poets who can rescue a metaphor like “the tombs of meaning” from deadness.
On a related note, I’ve received a message from a fellow blogger whom many of us admire, asking for advice on some recent books to buy. He’s working with a budget of around a hundred bucks, so has to be very selective. I thought it would be helpful if as many as us as possible could come up with a “must-buy list” of around ten titles of books published in the last five years or thereabouts, whatever might seem like a nice starter kit for an empty contemporary bookshelf. He’s very open to books that span the spectrum of different approaches and styles from “traditional” to “experimental.”
Here’s my list, which, again, is conceived not so much as a “best” list (though it certainly might be what someone’s would look like), as a selection intended to introduce someone to the variety of work out there and the different directions in which it might lead one eventually to expand one’s collection. In alphabetical order:
- Anselm Berrigan, Zero Star Hotel (Edge Books, 2003)
- Jordan Davis, Million Poems Journal (Faux Press, 2003)
- Laura Elrick, sKincerity (Krupskaya, 2003)
- Michael Gizzi, My Terza Rima (The Figures, 2001)
- Lyn Hejinian, Happily (The Post-Apollo Press, 2000)
- Jen Hofer, Slide Rule (subpress, 2002)
- Jack Kimball, Frosted (Potes and Poets, 2001)
- Rachel Loden, Hotel Imperium (U of Georgia P, 1999)
- Rod Smith, Music or Honesty (Roof Books, 2003)
- Elizabeth Willis, Turneresque (Burning Deck, 2003)
This list lays no claim to any meaningful criterion for selection other than the thought as I was writing it of what would make a nice row of ten new books on someone’s coffee table. Obviously there could be many other equally attractive lists, which is what I hope there soon will be.