Friday, April 21, 2006

Allan Peterson
University of Massachusetts Press, 2006

This book was recommended to me as a challenging but extraordinarily rewarding read. I’m in the middle of reading it now and I can’t help but agree. This is a great book from out of nowhere. It won the 2005 Juniper Prize; Peterson published one previous book, Anonymous, Or with a small, small press, and this is his second collection. And it’s frickin’ amazing.

Peterson’s dense sentences, wild associations, and straight-ahead metaphysical thinking recall the work of William Bronk, and put him in the path that extends from Stevens and Frost. Closely packed words force each line into many directions, and, as Peterson progresses from one idea or image to the next in order to extrapolate whatever thought the poem begins with, the poems accrue layers and resonances. To get a sense of what this book does, I’m going to quote a poem in full:


To say it right you would have to gather the printers of Meriden
Connecticut and of Basil
paper makers from Tin Rocker in grinders cuttlefish and soy
metalflake lapis suspended in oil
typecutters calligraphers applicators rubricators floralized reps
from tattoo parlors who are taking pictures
you would use only small letters since you mean soft and intimate
use plain water but natural not tap
that with spat and barnacles nauplia zoea zooplankters hydroids
more varied than intruding vessels from science fiction
a phrase like pigmy mammoths
two ospreys whose doubles float below them for miles
pidgins dialects jargons creoles
rebus acrostic and seven down the nine letter word for outnumber
Nothing is simple but what we choose to ignore
like the ciliated tufts in the oviducts of a mouse waving like grass
seasonal variations in salinity
If nature is all we have the god-noun that encompasses everything
and I am of it since it cannot be otherwise
then everything I imagine is and all scrutinized day night or afternoon
on the knobby couch and bumper flash
from Nancy’s classic Thunderbird This is the message:
Of love letters in English there are 26 and feelings outnumber flies

Reading this I have a strange image of a thought on a train that’s just left the station—someone who is trying to explain the thought is running alongside the train trying to keep up with the thought onboard, to describe it while it is speeding past. Lines and images briefly come into focus and then speed away. It’s thrilling to simply try and keep up with the associative thinking. But what grabs me most is how straightforward, how unironic the voice is—it’s dire, though the speaker knows he can’t quite say what he means to say, so he alights on a few easily understood phrases (“Nothing is simple but what we choose to ignore”) in the midst of far-reaching, often very obscure references and abstractions. In the midst of all that, the voice is absolutely matter-of-fact. Though this work doesn’t feel at all alien in the company of other contemporary experimental poetry, it’s also subtly unlike anything else I’ve recently read. Jeeze, I want to write like this.


Anonymous said...

you have the bests recomendations

Craig Morgan Teicher said...


Anonymous said...

Craig- I recently came across your blog that featured a review of my book All the Lavish in Common. I thank you for your thoughtful and enthusiastic comments. I sent a copy of it to the Editors at UMass Press. I have since bookmarked your blog and visit frequently. Regards, Allan Peterson

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I am going to buy his book now. -Scot Siegel