Friday, October 17, 2008

John Steffler's "Helix"

It took me quite a while to warm up to John Steffler's poems in his selected Helix (2002). The pruned remains of Wreckage Of Play I found unremarkable musically, and often too cutesy in tone ("Us Plumbers"; "My Latest Invention"; "The Glass House").

The middle section, the prose segments from The Grey Islands certainly lived up to its moniker: I found this particularly hard slogging, the hermetic diaristic somber distancing making me incurious about the stories of its inhabitants.

Things picked up spectacularly with the selections from Steffler's later volume, That Night We Were Ravenous. "The Sea Gangs In --" has some lovely sonorities: "buttered with morning light, throwing its lace hem at your bachelor's boots", among others, a delight to read -- and a bold adventure -- with the inevitable comparisons to a poetic imagistic subject already rife with canonical high points.

The closing selections from New Poems are likewise accomplished, showing a maturity, a confidence of tone as exemplified by "Sour Fire" with its closing surprising irony: "This man squatting alone by a sour fire,/ bitten by flies,/ telling himself he's getting close to the truth, / is not me."

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