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by Peter Richards
Action Books, $16 (paper)
Helsinki is a place and, one might say, an idea. But it is also a word, and in Peter Richards’s newest collection it is Helsinki the word that creates the idea, the place, and ultimately, the book. The poems—untitled, unpunctuated, strung together as one long piece—coil and uncoil, loop around repeated words, actions, characters, and images. Their jaunty pace makes for a pleasing uncertainty, as tilting a phrase this way or that makes new meaning that we are invited to reread, remake, rearrange: “Was it the wind you had / come back to see or was it the wind / feeding you thoughts to have asked.” The repetitions can be uncanny, making us feel that we have encountered this place, this idea, this image before—but where? In fact each section of the book weaves in what we have already encountered, as the poems continue a theme and contradict it in the same breath: “She started making / these quick little touch– / and–goes abruptly non– / existent.” While it’s true the poems, and the words in them, might be combed out (to borrow one of the poems’ repeated actions, “it will not speak so I comb it I comb it I comb it comb it”) and separated into strands, Helsinki is best when seen as a whole, with its own braided heft, “and all the world’s / radiant hair comes together and I can step no leap / upon a huge unbroken horse.”
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