Sleeping It Off In Rapid City: Poems New and Selected
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008
Hardcover, 234 pages
Kleinzahler Writes Fine Poems
I discovered August Kleinzahler when I became intrigued by an article based on an interview with him in the New York Times a couple of years ago, and then read a poem on-line that made me draw in my breath because he’d described an experience so precisely that I recognized everything about it. I immediately ordered Green Sees Things In Waves, a book that pleased me no end, and now I have ordered and received Sleeping It Off in Rapid City: Poems New and Selected—a beautiful book physically, and one which is also a volume of truly excellent poems. Sleeping It Off is a compendium of selections from Kleinzahler’s earlier books, most of which I have not yet read, along with some new poems. A few of my favourites so far (I am just finishing the first section of five) are “Shoot The Freak” and “A Valentine: Regarding the Impracticability of Our Love.” In addition to his magical way with words and images, I love the way Kleinzahler keeps the quotidian with him when he writes: it is everywhere in his poems, not crushing his work, but rather informing it. He brings popular culture and day-to-day events unexpectedly together with the larger issues that plague us and intrigue us, revealing all of it in a new way.
Take the genius of “I went to see McCarthy,” in which the narrator lifts off by plane from a sere mid-west America to revisit “old arguments” in Ireland. He leaves behind “a parched bare land of yellow ochre” and enters Ireland (“swaddled in cloud, all grey and green”). The poem reveals McCarthy’s town and his country in the way one might buff a brass image—going over the same area until its shape is gradually made bare and deeply shining. Through echoed images and repeated phrases, still trailing bits of the flat and dry Midwest behind us, we gradually enter the green land, its past and its way of telling stories –gradually enter until we are totally immersed in green. In green and green – learning as we go about the heroic battles that are required to come up with a good pat of Skibbereen butter, and that if something sounds good when you say it once, you might as well say it twice.
So I will: Kleinzahler writes fine poems.