La Vita Nuova
Left-handed, by Jonathan Galassi.
Alfred A. Knopf. $26.00.
In the middle of Galassi’s life’s journey, in the middle of the dark woods, the road forked. Galassi had no choice — and chose — and wrote these poems. You have here the music of civilized decency superintending a heart raving and roaring like a lion.
Asin those nineteenth-cen-tury plays where theroof gets blown off theconventional house andthe audience is left togape at the bare-headedheroine — him.— From Middle-aged
This is a book of sadness which describes a triumph. Very little artfulness or coquetry or charm to these poems, though many of them are lovely and some are quite funny. Even so, what you read is often pretty plain, a plain but lyrical account of remembering what had to be lost in order to move on. The moving-on cost plenty and is what made the poems. There is very little in the way of rhetorical flourishes or decoration, and not much in the way of narrative facts, either. No filigree, very little poetry, quite plain — but these are poems, not straight lines. There is a quiet, careful music. There’s the voice of the speaker, addressing his past, reminiscing plaintively, speaking to his future, telling the story of love that failed and new love that, though absolutely hopeless, transformed and inspired, love that changed a life. Above all, these are poems about a drastically changed life. That’s the costly, melancholy triumph. It’s a book about a shattering triumph.
Joy! Like a trout leaping silver-shiver from an ice-cold mountain stream into the sunlight! Hooked! That’s Galassi’s book. Have I ever said otherwise! The amount of pleasure these poems take in the things of the world, and the special people in it, and the plants, flowers, lawns, lakes, rivers, skies, sunlight, nighttime, cities, bedrooms, people, friends, lovers, lifts off the page. Laughter! Including laughing at himself! Joy!
Dear Mr. Galassi, you write such skinny poems on your BlackBerry!
This world sogolden so un-reachable thisAugust morningwith its hillsits tawny stub-ble fields itsfull-crownedtrees its sin-gle scarletbranches arch-ing overheadas desperatemusic poursfrom thespeakers isreason enoughto live almost.— From August
Then there are the slightly fatter ones, because you’re not always on your BlackBerry.
on my little terraceshaded by my little tree of life.Early morning summer haze,coffee after swimming,cherries, toast.Time to plant some,read some, dream some,time to regret,to mourn, desire.Time to be up and about,friends. I can sleep later.— Breakfast
Sometimes, a poem hears a tune and just can’t stop itself from rhyming (it doesn’t happen often).
So much for direction,for learning and knowing,for seeking and heeding,for staying or going.These were the waysof the life that we’ve knownand all of this timeI’ve been going aloneand I can’t anymore.Will it happen this way?Do you hear what I’m tellingyou, softly, today?Can you listen to me?Are you right? Am I wrong?The answer is somewhereinside of this song.— From Radical Hope
Or look at this haiku of straight talk. Basho Galassi.
You talk about mybad judgment asif I had any.— Judgment
It’s time for a love poem out of the man’s vita nuova. I think I’ll quote the whole thing. It’s just lovely.
Start with the view, the lategreat Empire State Buildingsoldiering solo in your north-facing windows with the rough-diamond city spread-eagled be-low: how New York is that?And your stolen Sharon roadsign and Empire State Build-ing model (a present fromPhilip?) your grandfather’sinsulators on the sill andphotos of eerie faces and un-settled scenery. Here’s yourcollection of caps and yourterrace with its tufted prai-rie grass your little couchand table and piles of papers— surely enough reading for alifetime. And here’s Bennymewing looking for you likeme and your aged Italianleather chair that’s missinga button and the garden tablewith its pair of folding seatsI bet you never eat at andyour tv on its stable standof books, so many books (Ilove that the computer’s inthe kitchen). And here’s yourcloset with your cache of se-crets, your strong boxstuffed with histories andletters, your scarves andjeans and scuffed shoes and“Not A Supplicant” T-shirts,enough for a team. Here arethe piles of the poetry thatstings you and your music,your BlackBerry and thephone you can’t survive with-out and often lose, your Fer-ragamo coat and mittens andwallet and keys and bag.Here’s Noah’s shirt and thegolden bed — where are you?— A Little Tour Around Your Room
I’m not going to talk about Mr. Galassi’s line breaks.
Life is hard. Here’s what’s on the other side of the bed. More bad. And more good. Such sweet air to breathe with this new music. Look! We have come through!
Frederick Seidel has been called “the poet the twentieth century deserved” and lauded as one of “the best poets writing today”; he has also been accused of writing “sinister” and “disturbing” poetry. Ange Mlinko, in the Nation, described his work as employing “the prosody of atrocity.” Such divisive reactions have...