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Elegies & Vacations
Salt Publishing, $15.99
Hank Lazer stands out among experimental poets for his refusal to cross the line where innovation becomes orthodoxy; he puts the tendency toward “the kind / of ironizing that makes your alienation / feel worth it all” into question without succumbing to “plainspoken poetic speech / & its weary manipulations.” Wry, lyrical, and anxious by turns, Elegies & Vacations contains some of Lazer’s most frankly moving work, centering on the diaristic long poem, “Deathwatch for My Father.” The chronicle of a death foretold, suspended for a brief, blessed period of weeks, and then concluded with swift finality, “Deathwatch” uses mostly short lines and a minimum of punctuation to track the banal and brutal phenomena of dying as well as the survivor’s struggle in the face of disrupted relation: “you will die / & i / will cease to be / a son.” But the undiscovered country of the dead does not put an end to poetry’s possibilities for dialogue: “trust / above all others / the dead their / conversation / in which you / take part.” Lazer seeks, after Charles Olson and George Oppen, to be an ethicist of morning—to find a poetic that carries forward the luminous language of “this first hour / of the day / before the others / wake into our conversing” into our daily conduct and beyond our “flawed rhetoric.” That paradisal dawn winks slyly like a beacon almost overwhelmed by the glare of the commodified tourist heavens where Lazer’s poem-vacations take place. In each we find the poet articulating his fierce desire that poetry should not be a monument but a means for attending to the present tense of our lives. Instead of trying to produce a “cockroach capable / of surviving an atomic blast” Lazer is a self-healing metaphysician of presence whose utterance stems from his own particular and unpermanent flesh: “say the name of all / say it as a breath.”
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