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University of Iowa Press, $16(paper)
Whether or not Bin Ramke qualifies as a poet-philosopher, there is no doubt that he is a poet overtly in love with philosophy, someone who—as Heidegger might have put it—willingly compels himself into the state of questioning. Following in the mode of Airs, Waters, Places(2001), Ramke’s eighth collection defines fields of intellectual play and speculation within broad metaphysical parameters, all the while acutely attending to the intricate, fickle physics of language. When he remarks on “the crazed illusion of surface,” he conjures a dimension of existence at once fragmented and frantic. And who could ask for more finely illustrated examples of the way life kindles its own demise than Ramke’s morning glories, “their color / deepening, purpling like bruises . . . a kind of slow blaze, /a blue incineration of self like breath held.” To pepper one’s poems with allusions to Lucretius, Walter Benjamin, the pre-Socratics, Wittgenstein and a host of other intellectual celebrities may not constitute the most engaging strategy, but readers don’t need the Tractatus at their bedsides to appreciate Ramke’s robust diction (“day being the accident of sunlight / grinding against a turning world”) and aphoristic precision (“the sadness of possibility is infinite”; “the past is anything’s childhood”). Like Wallace Stevens and William Bronk, Ramke finds poetry, with its figurative and associative flexibility, an apt medium of negotiation between apparitions of the personal and semblances of the other, between our lost, imagined selves and our attempts to reconstruct them, however inadequately, with minds that may be no more than “minimal reservoirs of the known.” Ramke’s poems are rich, if sometimes confounding, orchestrations of sorrow and wonder, cautionary reminders of how much of the human world as we perceive it has been spoken into existence.
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