Shells

Craig Arnold, Author
Craig Arnold, Author Yale University Press $25 (102p) ISBN 978-0-300-07909-8
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Paperback - 102 pages - 978-0-300-07910-4
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As subjects, cast-offs, or figurative devices, Arnold marshals mussels, crabs, scallops, clams and barnacles. In ""Little Shrimp"" he imitates the involutions of spira mirabilis, and narrates a night in a Spanish ""bullfight bar,"" recycling the words ""camar nes,"" ""pick"" and ""black eyes"" as ""Camar n de la Isla,"" ""Pick-/Me-Up"" and ""black light."" Such moments of facile male desire, in all its guises, drive the book: a ""Great dark man"" (""his hand around the glass/ is dark with fur"") wields a noirish knife; a ""Merman"" requires ""all the covers/ kicked off to accommodate me""; an elegy for Joy Division's Ian Curtis praises ""the ardor of a Bonaparte, a F hrer--."" A circumspect but not entirely unapproving examination of fleshy violence and bravado, ""The Power Grip"" contains directions for cunnilingus; ""For a Cook"" adds semen to an eggy alfredo sauce, then hair, and blood, and oil from the skin. The ""weird housekeeping"" of a ""Hermit Crab"" suggests Arnold's own watchful metric economies--his varied stanza forms create a rigid external structure, while the subjects wriggle beneath. But their hard control often yields to blurry, colloquial human voice: ""You say You made that up. You say That's sick./ You say The things men think of are so cruel."" Readers will find Arnold's pearly conceits hard to resist, but for all their inspired technique, they offer little beyond the masculine clich s (straight and otherwise) they examine. As W.S. Merwin's first selection for the Yale Younger Poets series, this book is a disappointment. (Apr.)
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