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Wesleyan University Press, $13.95 (paper)
Andrew Zawacki is a poet of startling, exhilarating capacity. At its best, the conceptual and formal subtlety of his writing evokes a complex psychological reality. In these moments Zawacki also achieves a Stevensian coolness and lightness of touch. He appears before us, comically and forcefully, as a musician adept on “a frost harmonica / settling his score with the sun.” This fugitive, vulnerable voice frequently melts (the harmonica is made of frost), carrying the speaker beyond the frontier of self-recognition: “one of me stuttered and one / of me broke, and one of me tried / to fasten a line to one of me untying it from me.” The doomed undertaking to “mortar myself to myself” is the struggle that animates Anabranch, and when the struggle feels like a struggle, Zawacki’s vital talent is bewitching. The self, for Zawacki, is subject to sudden refractions, and its faith in its own cohesiveness is mere sentiment. To simply assert this, however, as Anabranch too often does, is no less sentimental; tendentious emphasis on contingency seems anxious to reassure us that we are unimpeachably post-Romantic, sophisticated, and undeceived. The book tends to shy away from the tension between refraction and integration, and the drama of moving back and forth between these states. For this reason, Zawacki’s dismantling of the lyric “I” comes across as a static proclamation. Studied disruptions of everyday speech and an enchantment with Celanesque compound terms (“tunebroke,” “cloudwarp,” “mudsalve,” “winterstricken”) present refraction and integration in the language itself, but at the cost of hobbling the work with fastidious mannerism. These shortcomings would be less disappointing if the best parts of Anabranch were not excellent.
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