Tuesday, March 10, 2009

David Schloss

David Schloss is a Professor in the English Department at Miami University and author of numerous books and individual poems.

His most recent collection is Group Portrait From Hell. After Michelle Boisseau praised the book here on the site last month--"for people who love poems, it's a book that comes from paradise"--I got in touch with Schloss and asked him what he was reading. (As it turns out, he had already learned about Boisseau's post.) His reply:
l was told by Michelle Boisseau that she had done this, and I'd answered, "If anyone asked me (but they never do) I could honestly say I'm reading YOU."

So, since I've been too busy with textbook readings for my teaching lately, the only new poetry book (beyond poems in magazines) I've read in weeks is Michelle Boisseau's A Sunday in God-Years. She'll be reading at my school in April, so I thought I'd familiarize myself with her most recent work beforehand.

I'd read Michelle Boisseau's other three books and saw her read once in the past. This one is her most impressive. I've been reading it with delight and jealousy of her poetic gifts. The 'worlds' she regards seem more vividly real, though they are often imagined ones, than most contemporaries'... This book's grand project of inhabiting the past and others' worlds in imaginative projection, while sustaining a clear and honestly direct lyrical observation of the real world (her word for it is: "the transitory") is --and always has been, in fact--remarkable in her poems. "Celebrations," even of the darknesses, because the human struggle is equally apportioned to all her characters, including the non-human (cows, God, crows, etc) with an equitable embrace...

The manuscript is book-ended by a few longish meditations and the lyric middle is made up of sharply delineated shorter observations that reverberate with an opening section that glimpses deeply into generations of her once slave-holding forbears. There are a few sneaky sonnet and slant rhymed quatrains dispersed throughout the "free" verse, very charming variations on the controlled musical measures of all these works. The precision and surprising accuracy of images and tropes stand out vividly, too.

Michelle Boisseau writes a very regulated free verse, in fact: every word and line break count (with even a few syllabics, and intermittently, assanence-rhymed poems, my favorite kind) all carefully constructed and conceived. They are spare, pared down, like "carvings," sculptural. But what impresses me most is the attentive eloquence (and surprise and wit) in her precisely observed descriptions--which implicitly make her poems a kind of praise, even when the subject is deadly/death. I'm jealous of that skill with sound and controlled music--and sense: these are almost all philosophical meditations, poems of clear ideas about "deep time," geological, astronomical; seeing at the edges of things, projected genealogies, very sympathetic to the inner lives of their subjects, even when inanimate. The physical world is a spur to see or invent remarkable correlatives, even conceits sometimes. I like the thoughtfulness, and the wit...and of course the formalism of organizing arguments. Serious ones. The central figure of the title is the universe transpiring in the space of a nodding nap in God's mind--though she seems to be a "non-believer," she certainly believes in the interest and beauty in the creation. This is all very fresh and inspiriting to me. I hope others might discover the pleasures to be found in her words, especially in A Sunday in God-Years.
Visit David Schloss' Miami University faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue