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New and Selected Poems: 1958–1998
Green Integer, $14.95 (paper)
Just because this updated edition of Gilbert Sorrentino’s Selected Poems (1981) slips into a raincoat pocket, don’t be fooled by its size. At a time when many lushly packaged New and Selecteds underwhelm, this paperback gem delivers on its promise of amplitude. And though the reader might be excused for approaching with caution another potentially career-plumping retrospect, it is in just such a ranging collection that the tonal sureness of Sorrentino can be fully appreciated; style alters very little over 40 years when sensibility and technique are one. Sorrentino’s lens has always been bitterly clear, succinctly wry, and tenderly wise. Throughout these poems there is some sense of the fiction writer’s handle on human relations, even some sense of his better-known prose works’ Queneau-inspired experiments. But only in the poetry (and most especially in his radiant 1978 collection The Orangery) can Sorrentino’s project of lyric recovery be found. Referring to some photos of his wife and mother, the poet observes in “The Closet” that “women are lost in the void / with the old souvenirs”; he might equally be speaking of his beautifully rendered versions of the Roman poet Sulpicia, “silent as the stilled voices / Of the women who gaze through the imagination / I have blown into life yet again.” More recent works read as though the songs of Marvell (or Arnaut or Propertius) had been snatched from the air and transported to Brooklyn to be made newly immanent and contemporary: “Things are really okay when the moon is / When the moon is a pale silver disk. Right. / When her face breaks into when her face is / Creased in a tender smile.” Sorrentino’s deceptively humble undertaking (“in the poet’s song an / instant of consciousness”) is not, after all, without considerable ambition or consequence: “Whatever will become / of the lyric, / that will become / of the I.”
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