Monday, September 26, 2005


Quinton Duval's book Joe’s Rain revels in the slow wisdom of knowing that losing one's aspirations is a kind of achievement. The spirit of "hanging on" rises and animates nearly every poem in the book. The various speakers in the book, invariably mapped onto one shade or another of Duval, feel perfectly at home with the errant turn in life as well as reference made by the speaker to himself as "fat, bejeweled maggot." That'd be pretty harsh stuff if it weren't coming out of such an affable, self-deprecating guy.

Duval's earnest and straightforward work matched the Mark Bowles Central Valley landscape paintings behind him—flatline horizons. Listening to Duval read his poems at The Art Foundry in Sacramento reminded me of an interview with B. B. King I heard recently. King’s outlook was always gracious for whatever fortune had smiled on him as he held firm to the things he claimed as his own. Duval keeps the familiar in his clutch at all times. The poems are laced with generous amounts of Central Valley ephemera and natural phenomenon. As is the frequent trope for many Sacramento poets, the familiar and home are mainstays. Sacramento is a place that inspires fierce loyalties and myriad reflections, and though happening upon the Central Valley by chance in the mid-60’s, Duval has firmly ensconced himself within the literary imagination that Sacramento’s weather and rivers inspire.

Joe’s Rain is a tidy collection. Slightly more than half of the poem titles are one or two-word titles. It is a collection of six groups of seven poems bookended by a welcoming and farewell poem. In this way it appears as though you’ve been visited by a very sociable and amiable fellow with good manners who knows not to stay too long nor say too much. These are characteristics I admire because, for me, they're so damned elusive. One looks up after an evening with Joe’s Rain that isn't too taxing or intimidating and discovers a relaxed feeling arriving unexpectedly. His presence is the kind one saves a special bottle for. The bottle is brought out solely for the two of you when he visits. Indeed, beer, wine and bourbon (but no saké) flow throughout the book, but in "Joe’s Rain," another elixir is proffered.

Joe’s Rain

This late rain drives
into the dry soil
silent through the windows
that look out back.
One big robin bathes
in a saucer left out,
but that doesn’t mean much.
Two weeks ago a man stood
where the rain is falling,
frail, stooped, but standing,
forming words and making sense
about plants and birds and
what a garden does for your soul.
All the daylight is nearly burned,
smoke and ash of evening.
Lights from the house shine
back from wet concrete
this late rain has darkened.
The moon, we learn, reflects
the sun, so that’s what’s real.
I swear I hear a mockingbird
sound just like an alarm clock
mornings when I don’t have to
get up. So that is real too.
And today, wet streets
under the overpass, trucks above
barreling somewhere hurried,
a shower of cherries, shaken
from their crates around a curve
rained down in front of me
and adorned the roadway.
Farmers don’t like rain
when their crop is on the tree.
But I like rain almost always.
Bury us all near water,
scatter us all on water.
If it can rain cherries, it can rain
anything. Does this help?
Have a glass of rain on me.

Rhetorically speaking, this poem ends the way several poems in the collection do. The you understood suggests a giving of advice or a giving of directions. "Have a glass on me" is an invitation, but it's also a warning that slaking thirst can seem like a useless gesture in retrospect. The speaker knows that a glass of rain really isn't going to help with the bitter pill, but he offers it nonetheless. In this way, "Joe’s Rain" can be offered as a kind of Duvalian ars poetica that says—"Hey, I'm just making these poems as a way to take care of what ails you, but I can’t vouch for their effectiveness at alleviating a lifetime of your pain." Does this poem help or does that poem help? Duval isn’t presumptuous enough to even hazard a guess. However, in "Shine" he makes his humble proposal to embrace optimism such as it is.


This paper hides in back
of a book I’m reading
because it is sad and beautiful,
the last book of poetry
written by a man who knew
he was dying, and still he found
joy and life and shine in most things.
this paper with nothing on it
asks, I suppose, by its blankness,
to be filled.
I don’t believe in curses,
good or bad, rubbing off.
Maybe I have a pencil
and this paper to put down
how the turkey vulture came
straight toward the house
so I could see its red head
like stewmeat in the noon light.
Or across the bay, from this high,
a road looks like a backwards C,
like fingers and thumb showing
how much you missed something,
when what you missed by was slight.

I know, I’m not going anywhere
like the eucalyptus that waves
back at something constantly.
I can only describe what’s out there
and try to make it shine
like a ring pressing into a finger,
like the shallow water
the boats are careful to steer around,
like, like, like the sun dropping,
the blood spatter on that one gull’s beak.
Pencil on paper, I still have things
to say. Here’s to everyone trying
in some way to make shine out of shinola.
You know what I mean. It’s the difference
between the vulture’s beaded eye
behind his meat face, the rain
pouting miles offshore, the lizard
that comes out to share the sun,
the one my wife doesn’t like
but I think is a bright little motor
pulsing up and down in this light.

Here Duvalsides with the little guy (doing his push-ups in order to survive). That lizard isn't "going anywhere like the eucalyptus." If I weren’t sure that Duval doesn’t have green skin and a tail, I'd swear he had manifested himself as this reptile sunbathing in the nude. The speaker seems to be getting at the ol' accepted wisdom that there is truth ringing through all the sorrow and disappointment. A little shrine of abdications can be built to glimmer in the afternoon heat, fending off a world of menace.

Duval makes great sport of ridiculing the grandiose and celebrating the simple pleasures of common experience. Everywhere in his work there are gestures made to common experience. He is very self-conscious about sounding like a poet with a capital p, like in "Trying to Read Mythology,"—"Or more beautiful,/a pitcher of moonlight spills over/the heat-faint garden and lights up/ a fig tree laden with ancient, ripe fruit./Maybe we should shut up and eat.” Here the poetic gesture is trumped by more basic demands. This kind of deflation is pervasive in Duval's poems, and it tends to nestle into the body of a poem between the yearning and wrenching detail the way a cactus wren hunkers down in a scabbed-over hole in a saguaro.

In I Remember SaltDuval takes the reader to a non-descript Spanish-speaking venue—my best guess places me in Mexico, but I wouldn't rule out Neruda's Antofagasta plains ( I must admit, though, that this second option is unlikely as Duval usually opts for direct experience as his subject matter rather than traveling through to an imagined space). Once there, the reader is greeted by a rather harsh and bitter domain. Life is hard—sleeping and eating and laundry, the trifecta of a barren life. The scenes are working class scenes, and Duval becomes aware of his alienation in such a place where "salt is taken in kind and bitter olives yield the oil year after year." Here again, the focus is on expectations dashed. In such a place dreams are not even worthy of idle chatter. Revealing something like a dream might get one arrested for indecent exposure. Residents of this visited place might be too familiar with the truism Duval offers in "Honey"—"we rarely get to taste the honey we've made." And when we do taste it, Duval in "On a Hot Summer Day" reminds, "being grown up is accepting/the diminishing of all things/we imagined ours forever." Duval seems specifically in tune with this sensibility of accepting the echoing sentiment of nostalgia in "Into the Sea."

Into the Sea

Take your tarnished halo
and sail it into the pale blue
line between sky and water
this evening offers you
here at the edge of the world.
Take your faded blue shirt
and strip it to bandages
for the wounded souls
you’ll meet along the way.
Bring what you can carry
and remember that no one can tell
what lingers behind your smile.
You know some songs, yes,
but the words seem to have fallen
from the board, as the birds
this evening fall off the face
of the sky and into the ocean’s turmoil.
How many songs have you ever known
with "pilgrim" inside, wander
the directive, and the needle
pointing north? A squad of pelicans
clears the space west of you.
Your path leads to woods, a bridge,
a hill, a bluff, a bench
where rest the weary. The sunset’s
glorious, it’s not so cold,
and everything goes off, everything
except your full heart, your waving hand,
your watery eyes. Into the sea
everything goes.

At the end of the book, the reader might feel like he/she has been witness to a lemon-sucking contest. The leftover lemon rinds are the dregs that serve as reminders of tattered lives, still loved like stuffed bears with their patina of wear and tear. The hard truth of the matter, though, is that the reader is probably better off than those dismembered lemons. The Germans call this schadenfreude, joy at another’s misfortunes. It is a strange way to get to catharsis for Americans, but I presume Duval would allow for any of his readers to get there any way they might manage. Besides, all the self-deprecating humor Duval employs, Americans generally don’t get that anyway. When was the last time you heard an American tell a joke that started out, "There were these three Americans . . ." Duval is one American who might just rise to this occasion.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Josh McKinney, sporting his new Gary Snyder haircut (or was it a Lance Armstrong cut?) read nearly twenty pieces from his new collection The Novice Mourner published by Bear Star Press. The short-cropped hair and cowboy boots seemed apropos of a redneck shitkicker past that McKinney claims in the book, which is very distant from the effete elliptical type that Stephen Burt and others have proclaimed him as. Nowhere was this neatly compartmentalized past self more apparent than in McKinney’s piece called “Gun,” the highlight of the evening. In “Gun,” a collection of short prose poems inhabited by Bonnie Parker and populated mostly by childhood vignettes about his father’s sidearm pistol, McKinney intoned the words descriptive of his father’s (and now his own) pistol—the Ruger “Blackhawk” .22-caliber single-action revolver—in such an incantatory manner that it made it possible for a brief moment to truly believe in and devote oneself to the raw power of firearms.

Many of the poems in The Novice Mourner stand in stark contrast to Saunter, McKinney’s previous book that won the University of Georgia Press Poetry Series Open Competition in 2002. The Novice Mourner is seemingly much more autobiographical. It is the place where McKinney negotiates and wrestles with his past (in particular with the spectre of his bitter and authoritative father) at the same time providing reminders of his experimental tendencies. The discontinuities and fragments which are emblematic of much of the work in Saunter often give way to, in a case like "Gun," brutally straightforward narratives where McKinney’s aim is to reveal arrived-at truth rather than truth searched for, shaken, separated, and reticulated.

This adaptation of style to fit content shows that McKinney is not a slave to current fashion and that he understands that form needs to serve the content it delivers. The poems I admire most though are the ones that maintain their narrative thread while introducing a healthy amount of meditation on the events, placing the events within the arc of humanity’s struggle and exhibiting the reach of an energetic mind. A Principle of Perspective is a terrific example of how a son’s battle with his father (though the son is not completely equated to McKinney through the use of the first person I) can be the backdrop for a meditation on the need to acquire distance from a colossal event. In this poem the event is one that upsets the typical father-son power relationship. The perspective that evolves passes through normal tones until a “sinister” one develops to inform the living.

But it is not enough for many to simply admire poems. Many readers wish to love poems and the authors who write them. They look for the familiar forms of persons they know in them. And McKinney delivers this to them as well. In “In Other Words” the speaker informs the reader of how the past wreaks havoc on his thinking. Then in stanzas four, five, and six, a scene with an old woman begins to emerge. An old man (the father who likely appears in "A Principle of Perspective") exhibits some odd behavior, and the speaker is left to interpret it, to interpret the slow dissembling of this man at the end of his life. The last two lines prove that the thing that makes one human might also be the thing that leads one to ruin. McKinney cautions that the higher faculties doth lead us astray.


Light tactics splay over the ground,
and the clothes twisting
in wind, the shirts and skirts
forming like tall thoughts,
make sight a plea for mediation.

What sinful, crazy architect
concocts a past in tatters?
The light. The wind. I grew up
tall, thinking the way a chain twists,
winching engines into air.

“Back in the spring of” is how
it begins. In, at, on—the little
words that make place possible.
Telephones revise the fields,
which is why I am twisting even now

into the patchwork of an old woman’s
apron, her hands without tactics
to clothe her husband, naked,
stumbling into a field to call
his dog, dead now for years.

I call no one and the tale survives
another telling. We embroider place.
We clothe the wind and lash it
to our backs. Power is always naked.
How could I tell them his stories grew

better in his last months,
the squeamish garments of a past
cast away in tatters, his words
strangely light, attendant to the world
and free from the idea of it.

Death seems singularly prepared to make its face seen on nearly every page in The Novice Mourner, not unexpected in a book primarily about grief and loss. McKinney read his pieces plaintively, in an even tone that enhanced their solemn nature. The stare into the harsh abyss requires such a steady voice. That earnest tone is spread liberally throughout the book. There is very little of the nimble elision and undercutting of pronouncement seen in McKinney’s other work. The speaker in the poems of The Novice Mourner is urgently delivering a message to his readers: the world is cruel and crueler when looked at in hindsight. In fact, in “In Earnest,” the only piece in the book that takes respite from the past and places the reader in a decidedly Sacramento landscape, McKinney seems to elevate death to a kind of noble gesture, a kind of success that can be had when the time comes for there to be no more expectations about living. The salmon gracefully move towards their end, and in doing so, reach something like epiphany at the moment they expire. In this, they are “almost nothing, almost all.”

Even the love in The Novice Mourner is brittle, susceptible to disruption by catastrophe knocking at the door. “The War at Home” is one of the most beautiful and poignant poems about the current war in Iraq and how the presence of war can unnerve even those in a remote domestic setting. The effect that the war has on the speaker is reminiscent of how young Israelis who serve in the Israeli Army seem to inherit blindness and fury just by their proximity. The young soldiers are poisoned by the atmosphere. In “The War at Home” husband and wife suffer the same fate at the hand of a world that rudely encroaches and destroys habits of caring for others.


It’s Tuesday, nearly Christmas,
and the kids have gone to school.
It’s the day I work at home, the day
we’ve planned to set aside
some time, a few hours, to talk,
to touch, to take a walk around the block
among the falling leaves, and then
beneath the quilts to feel the chill
go out of us. Perhaps to say
some soft and secret thing unplanned,
perhaps to doze—if only to wake
still holding one another—and then
to rise again, to carry the glow
of union through the day.

We sit down to read the news
and by the second cup of coffee,
stop. The specters of the daily dead
assert themselves, and I can read
the disappointment in her face,
and worse, the shadow of a tired resolve
that looms up now, a merciful distraction:
there are goods to buy, and the car needs
gas. And I, too, in the mood now
only to be intimate with my anger at
the world. What used to come so easily
to us is now the victim of our broader view,
which narrows like this season
and its sun, like our grim smiles
as we tell each other, silently,
that we will make no time for love.

These lovers are a little too experienced in the world. They let their grief about its violence and chaos manage their time. However, not every poem’s speaker is similarly afflicted. In “The Novice Mourner,” the speaker seems psychically unprepared for the next calamity even though he expects it. Knowledge is scarce. What befalls the speaker is a sense of living in the world among the disparaging ingratitude of imminent tragedy. The tragic always announces itself as essential.


This may not be the end of something.
If the cat in the window knows anything,
she’s not talking. For three days

his hands have smelled of pine,
clear eyes closed to study the blue moon
where the hammer kissed his thumb.

Food shadows lengthen, counting lulls
between determined moans of ambulance
and cottonwood. All those dishes to return.

His neighbor leans on a lawnmower
purple-faced; even his once-luscious
wife wears life like a thin gown.

He scans obituaries for names of the living.
The mail slot sings its avalanche of grief,
anticipating spaces for every shotgunned

sign post, for every forgotten squash
turning to water under a canopy of leaves.
Any minute now, the phone rings.

Perhaps the great irony (or is it justice?) in The Novice Mourner is that the view of the world as harsh and unforgiving that the father in many of the poems inhabits is now adopted by McKinney himself. The circle is complete. Another father has jettisoned his burden for a son to carry. As McKinney’s past surfaces and is processed, it cannot escape submission to the grim requirements of the serious consequences given on any particular day.

It is a testament to Beth Spencer at Bear Star Press that she is able to let a variety of styles commingle in The Novice Mourner, for the real glue is the emotional weightiness of the subject matter. The stylistic variance is also tribute to McKinney’s understanding the game of sloughing off labels that have been affixed—as X kind of poet or Y kind of poet. The tone of the book can deaden joy at times, again understandable in light of the subject. However, if one bears down and is willing to immerse oneself into the craggy depths of McKinney’s level-headed look at the somber, the result will be that one begins to feel like a cancer survivor (on a long bike ride), like one has endured a long, tough battle with an adversary who plays as unfairly as life in the world does.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


While I agree that Mr. Gabriel Gudding does a very thorough job of pointing out what the habitual pot-stirrer is up to, I am concerned about where legitimate dissent is allowed to present itself (after all, it can always be branded as "bad behavior" by those firmly ensconced in the group ethos).

Quite honestly, I get tired of those who are so quick to use the label of "bad" rather than "complex" about behavior. Mr. Gudding's piece reads like a primer of how to deal rhetorically with those who dare to dissent. [It's not always to draw attention to oneself. Some people actually have ideas of their own these days. Might there be a difference?] In this age of deep and scary conformity, I am concerned about how totalizing norms work their magic.

I suspect this is why some people are always a little bit shy of those people whose name creates a little cloud of community along with them. One can usually smell the blind alignment to the cause which is always present within the cult of personality.

Furthermore, I've always understood it to be the literary responsibility of "those outside" to comment (many times unfavorably) on the inner machinations of majority groups. I would go further in saying that there are many people whose radar is finely tuned to the poisons lurking as groupthink within any community. Those who champion "community above everything else" seem to me to forget how repressive groups can be.

That Ginsberg may have had some rough spots on his emotional profile, I don't doubt. However, in my discussions with Bei Dao, he was always grateful that when Ginsberg went to China, he publicly recognized him as opposed to the official state-sanctioned poets. I'm sure Mr. Gudding would accuse Ginsberg of mugging for the camera. Perhaps, though, he was naturally inclined to acknowledge dissidence. The attacks on Ginsberg now (years after his death) are probably due to the fact that we in the States don't do dissidence very well now. ESPECIALLY in academia [Where I presume Mr. Gudding resides as he identifies himself as a "semicolon specialist"].

Apparently, in Mr Gudding's book, all those who seek to inscribe their own individuality are narcissists. Let us be helped by the God of good manners when these said "individuals" are expunged from the realm of the artistic corps.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Brad Buchanan reciting a poem to one of his favorite hand puppets

Brad Buchanan’s reading at The Art Foundry in Sacramento was like going to see the old school poets as they assembled around a campfire and recited their earnest renderings of the world long into the evening. One almost expects a harmonica to (as Buchanan himself writes in "A Personal History of the Harmonica") appear in the wings as a "voice as fragile and eager as a flame."

While I wouldn’t characterize Buchanan’s voice as fragile, his baritone is steady and deeply attuned to metrics as he reads. Each poem is recited from memory (nearly two dozen from his repertoire by my count), and the timing of each line is very measured, if not the modulation of voice. Yet, this works to his benefit. By the end of the evening, one feels mesmerized, pulled into the solemnity of Buchanan’s world. Like Segovia lulling animals to sleep in Seville, Buchanan's poems transfix their listeners and introduce them deeper and deeper into the miasma of human emotion. He is calm and earnest, so calm my five-year-old fell into blissful sleep on my lap.

Coupled with this calm, though, is great intensity. There is nothing breezy at all about Buchanan or his work. During his reading, an intensity comes over him that suggests a game of chess with him would be no ordinary one. His lines are the definition of "muscular," loaded as they are with rich adjectives and "heavy" concepts. For his ambition to take on weightiness so earnestly, I admire his work in that it runs so contrary to current fashion. Buchanan’s soul is very old, and he has no problem in returning to the ponderous ground of the old masters and oral tradition. The poems in The Miracle Shirker are object studies in how to construct a line as a mighty fortress ripe for memory.

Buchanan writes primarily out of his own life experience in The Miracle Shirker. The early part of the book documents aspects of his life growing up in Ottawa. Then he addresses his formative years in the States. Several poems in the middle take on literary and aesthetic subject matter (as well as a smattering of politics). Finally, the last poem of the book returns to the childhood game of tag with a childhood acquaintance who was a cancer patient.


Sometimes our games of tag made room
for a cancer amputee named Jamie;
he dangled from one armpit and swung
a crutch, too late, at the fleeting boys
who went near enough to the “home free” zone.

Still, we took our lumps; there was no cast to sign,
so we let the rubber tip of his aim
leave its mark on us as we darted in
and out of range, as though we were drawn
by the vectors of healthy momentum.

He was having fun, we were convinced
as we ran past, pushed each other close.
Bald beneath his baseball cap,
he whirled in pursuit of a shifting home plate.

Too sick to be anything but "it"
in a swarm of playmates he couldn’t infect,
he hit out with one hand at the life
that eluded him, laying the wood on
too hard and too seldom.

Buchanan is best when he is using his precision language to compress action. In this piece we are led through innocently cruel actions of the speaker and his friends until the last three lines when Buchanan lays his punch onto his readers by commiserating with all who have suffered indignity and have been unable to find retribution often enough.

But Buchanan is not one to deliver lines such as the final one above too seldom. On the contrary, there are many dense and muscular lines that must be carefully unpacked. At the outset of “His Wardrobe,”

The vagrant angels of his wardrobe
are prone and prostrate, shapeless cuckolds,
frames of skin that, uncollected,
slump in wrinkled attitudes.

This line and the next make for a complicated and finely wrought image:

They are spread out like pelts let slip in traps:
a feather-filled parka, fallen, faceless
hood-space down, is humped like a monk
uncloistered, wintering in that basement.

The piece continues with various ruminations on the kind of body and the various manifestations of the body’s spirit that resided in this wardrobe. At the end the speaker emerges to speak to these various manifestations that he "want(s) no part of them,/ they’ve made room already; his nakedness/in all but name has been proven/unfaithful, the soul’s cloak, a sham."

Emptiness, failure and death linger in many of Buchanan's offerings. One would presume he would be in possession of a shattered life instead of a Ph.D. from Stanford (perhaps this was the crucial catalyst for such despair). But emptiness, failure and death are really impostors in Buchanan’s work. All of these are really foils for what concerns Buchanan the most—emotional loss. There is grief and near-grief on every page. His world is a world where sperm turns to dust and old men fish and shift foot to foot while they watch their other lives wash away. Buchanan has trained his focus on how consequence and the choices that one makes conspire to cut off one's other lives. This is the root of Buchanan's emotional loss, the loss of possibility.

There are so many other taut and demanding lines that I could continue my discussion of them indefinitely. One line that catches my attention in "Picking Fruit," a poem that neatly approaches the subject of how we choose our mates, is a line that is kind of an ars poetica. In the poem the speaker is instructed by his/her mate to pick ripe fruit. The speaker recognizes that the fruit can’t be put back after it is plucked from the tree, ready in its urge to rot. Towards the end of the poem, the speaker’s I appears to reveal:

I might do worse,
when I write this poem,
than to take your advice
as I look for an ending—
and stretch the thought
till it breaks, or not,
at which point I will choose
other fruit to take home.

While the parallel to the picking of fruit is obvious, and the "picking" of one's mate is the subtext, one might venture that there is more of a literal rendering of Buchanan’s poetics here. The intensity that Buchanan musters to forge his lines (at times because of the slant rhymes he employs) almost causes there to be a shear force for the meaning of his line. It’s a kind of semantic contortioning that occurs. This might almost make him seem like a "LANGUAGE" poet, a notion which Buchanan would be horrified by or find as outright absurd. [Let it be clear that Buchanan makes no bones about his disdain for incomprehensibility elsewhere in the book.] However, in the lines above, one can peer at an attitude of indifference about whether the thought a line delivers remains intact on first impact with the reader.

More of Buchanan’s approach to writing can be seen in "Not If I See You First." I shouldn’t really claim that this piece addresses his approach to writing. It is more indicative of his approach to seeing and telling, so much a part of any poet's toolbox. Buchanan is not very well-ensconced in the first thought-best thought school.

Not If I See You First

My eyes and ears,
you give notice that light
is moon-colored this evening—
the wet wind has stopped
and clouds are no object.

You tell me: look up
and listen for more specific
directions, as if we could fly
to where your observations

What you describe

makes a second sight
more intense and more lasting
than my own impressions.

Reality tells me you’re what
I can trust. You make time
for the senses to take, unrehearsed.

One day I’ll wake up
and get a taste of unmediated
experience—a sunrise
that signifies, undiscussed—
but only if I don’t see you first.

In this poem Buchanan lauds the double take, raising it to the sanctified ground of the impression. Spontaneity is cashed in for a Rilke-like deep look at things. His eyes and ears intone that it is this kind of hard, rigorous looking that should be trusted, not the facile glance. In this manner, the second take, the experience mediated by rumination is championed. This is a hard thing to get used to when one is informed by mainstream contemporary poetics to get the mind out of the way and just provide unmediated experience. Buchanan knows better. He realizes that the human mind can contribute to a rendered scene. He is most honest about the way his mind intercedes between seeing and telling. In this way he is not just a run-of-the-mill poet of experience. Mercifully, the mind is at work, and it is given acknowledgment for what it contributes to experience. One might say he is a minimalist in tone and style, but a maximalist in the breadth of what his thinking life offers.

Another refreshing thing about Buchanan’s take on the role of the mind in poetry is that he doesn’t want to make very many apologies for the mind being overwhelmed or tripped up by all the input in a highly mediated culture. Buchanan's mind insists that it is still fashionable, if not good manners, to use that mind to make sense.

There are several ringers in the book. "After the Victory Declaration" poignantly deals with the absurdity and inhumanity of war. “The Heroin Garden” is a meditation on drug addiction and, by extension, all kinds of addiction. Other poems from the collection include: A Photograph from Northern Iraq and The Separate Sleep. My favorite poem in the book at current reading, though, is

A Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

An Eden of juxtapositions
a litte dark-haired girl feeding pigeons
on the lawn, mimicking a parent’s
too-predictably generous hand,
is given a hasty peck and drops
her peaceful bounty, creating a mob.
A dwarf bonsai by a waterfall
is a parable of serenity; a plaque
offers her a more grave consolation:
"In 1942 the Hagiwari
family was relocated to a different part
of the country." One cannot live
in a garden unmindful of wars,
which are bound to happen.
Golden carp polish themselves in a pond,
like tarnished suns in a captive sky;
crayfish stick together in a muddy corner,
wondering why they were ever set free.
Tea is served in prophetic cups;
fortune cookies gobbled between sips.
These fragments prove the beauty
of a long-suffering imperative:
cultivate your life for strangers
to see themselves in, whoever they are.
When you’re gone a reflection remains,
clean but haunted, a clue to the nature
of paradise: an ancient banishment reinvented.

"Golden carp polish themselves in a pond,/like tarnished suns in a captive sky" alone is worth the price of admission, and the last line is indicative of the kind of loss that determines Buchanan’s world view—even among the small pleasantries of the observable world, one has a feeling that one has been banished into paradise, that some other world holds even more promise.

Buchanan is not a school of quietude poet, a poet who makes the mind disappear because it is some embarrassing toilet paper sticking to the bottom of the shoe. Yet his mind’s adventures do not take him down the path of numerous younger poets who want to explore the noise and confusion of the mind as the new and proper agenda for the mind swamped in a heavily mediated culture. While no one can deny that the mind today is too frequently overwhelmed and therefore seen as a kind of sickly child that constantly throws up on itself, this is not an excuse to openly indulge in this version of the mind to the exclusion of all other versions. And this way of writing, championing discontinuity, is hardly new. I thought I saw all this discontinuity many years prior as the harbinger of the new, and with Zukovsky and others before that. The tricks of discontinuity have grown old and tiresome, even annoying when they insist themselves so adamantly. Buchanan’s work may just be proof that intelligence need not always go beyond the brink and embrace chaos.