Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos

Lawrence Joseph, Author
Lawrence Joseph, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $16 (192p) ISBN 978-0-374-12517-2
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Joseph reveals his biography and background early, his fiery style and intellect somewhat later, in this reissue of all his earlier poems. The son of a Lebanese immigrant, Joseph attended Catholic schools in Detroit, where his family endured segregation and violence. His debut volume, Detroit of Shouting at No One (1983), spoke up in rough unrhymed lines much like those of the early Philip Levine. Curriculum Vitae (1988) showed a poet more comfortable with his brainpower and more at ease with abrupt transitions, making his way around England (where he lived after college) and, especially, around New York City, where he worked as a lawyer. (Joseph now teaches at St. John's University Law School; he has written a book of nonfiction called Lawyerland.) The Lebanese civil war of the 1980s gave Joseph another powerful subject, suggesting a ""God/ who changes tears into bombs."" More original but more uneven, Before Our Eyes (1993) incorporated some halting love poems but also made constant use of terms from economics and law: ""Is it true, the rumor that the new/ instruments of equity are children, commodified?"" By presenting two simultaneous collections (Into It), FSG hopes to jump-start the career of a cult author; while the material here engages, it never fascinates.
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