VISIBLE SIGNS: New and Selected Poems

Lawrence Raab, Author
Lawrence Raab, Author . Penguin $18 (208p) ISBN 978-0-14-200269-8
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Gathering work from five previous volumes with new poems, this selected shows film, landscape and art as recurring subjects for Raab, but only as vehicles to access the internal realm: "today, when I saw / how tenderly the light was moving among those trees / I thought of you." The earlier work here provides some relief from the general uniformity of the collection's plain style: Mysteries of the Horizon (1972) and Collectors of Cold Weather (1976) betray an early interest in surrealism, as well as a deep inheritance from Williams-style imagism. By 1987's Other Children, Raab has settled into the familiar poetic terrain of the first-person meditation; ruminations on the everyday world of walking the dog and watching the sleeping child dominate. His last two books, the National Book Award–nominated What We Don't Know About Each Other (1993) and Probable World (2000), continue in this vein: "You open the thermos of coffee. / It's Saturday. This is happiness, you think." The new poems are likewise concerned with the daily epiphany: One poem asserts, "How easily we can make ourselves sad/ just thinking. How little/ that buys us." But unlike Billy Collins's fairly thoroughgoing domestic optimism, Raab's sensibility is at heart resignedly and reluctantly dissatisfied: "Most of it/ is done already... yours/ is the same old life a thousand people/ had the good sense to keep to themselves." The work is not ambitious, but it is sincere and well-crafted, or, as one poem murmurs: "The studied poverty of small observations." (Apr.)

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