Vanessa Place reviews Rosmarie Waldrop’s new book, Driven to Abstraction, for Constant Critic. She reads the books in terms of the greatest abstractions of all - everything and nothing - as they relate to the circle of the zero, and the sentence. But the review is useful not because of its praise of a poet who we all know by now is worthy of praise, but because it cautiously points to where the poems might stumble, and frames this potential stumbling not in terms of the poets’ weakness, but in terms of the very structure of poetry:

Like most of us, Waldrop has a harder go of it with the unwieldy Real. Turning to the current unpleasantness, she frontally addresses the literal failure of parole: “4,000 to 6,000 civilians have been killed in Fallujah.// It is impossible to describe the fact which corresponds to this sentence without simply repeating the sentence.// A cat chases a yellow butterfly. My father sneezes.// Unlike the id, the ego, through which alone pleasure becomes real, is subject to time. (“By the Waters of Babylon”) While it is right and true that there are things for which well-crafted description is not only unnecessary but may well be obscene, there is also a worry in casting chaos as an equal part of the epistemological mix. Butterflies and sneezes are surely as matters of fact as cascades of corpses, but putting them in the same rhetorical tureen can seem overly superflat for someone as deft as Waldrop. She’s too sure-footed—Astaire never stumbles without the stumble becoming a step.

Originally Published: January 10th, 2011