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Omnidawn Publishing, $14.95 (paper)
Bin Ramke has come to be known for the procedures and allusions that quicken his ongoing poetic experiment—that is, for the virtuosity of his verbal gadget-love, especially his dappled, infidel scholarship in verse. Readers of his ninth collection Tendril<, however, may feel compelled to see his work, including its earlier manifestations, in a new light. For Tendril is a book whose awakening to the little things in life always appears in the light of shipwreck, and whose erudition goes tick-tick-tick like a bomb, or like a metronome of gallows humor. Quirkily sentimental as the boy who falls in love with the doomed girl in the radio drama picked up on his first transistor radio (“Tendril”), Tendril is written under the sign of Saturn: listless and compulsive, solipsistic and loving, esoteric and accidental, heartless and inconsolable. In short, Ramke’s recent work is among poetry’s most authentic and satisfying revisions of Pound’s ideogrammic method of composition (the granddaddy of sampling and assemblage) in half a century, yet one would want to add that Tendril evokes, in particular, the richly unified sensibility and tonality of The Pisan Cantos. Accordingly, Tendril reminds us that the most trying and enigmatic aspect of the poetic ideogram is not discontinuity, but the problem of relations. How do the disparate and sometimes hermetic elements of a poetic text find common ground? The feathery, apocalyptic “notions” of Ramke’s poetry touch one another through his Botticellian orchestration of tone, both in terms of affect and diction. In other words, the coherence of his ideograms is essentially expressive rather than conceptual or thematic. A momentary technical digression into the etymology of the word “replicate,” for example, resonates tonally with the poet’s recollections elsewhere in the book of his boyhood on a farm in the bayou, with a recitation of the medical nomenclature of schizophrenia, or with the inescapable “sadness” of ornithology and architecture. Tutored by Echo and Narcissus, Tendril is nevertheless a deeply companionable book, a lyrical tractatus torn asunder by music, reflection, and regret.
Daniel Tiffany is the author of nine books of poetry and literary criticism. His latest collection of poems, Neptune Park (Omnidawn 2013), was selected by the Poetry Foundation as a notable book of 2013. His critical books include Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance (Chicago 2009) and My Silver Planet: A Secret History of Kitsch and Poetry (Johns Hopkins 2014), a nominee for the Pegasus Prize in Poetry Criticism. He has translated works by authors from French, Greek, and Italian. He is a winner of the Chicago Review Poetry Prize and a recipient of a Whiting Fellowship and of the Berlin Prize, awarded by the American Academy in Berlin. He lives in Los Angeles.
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