A Kiss in Space: Poems

Mary Jo Salter, Author
Mary Jo Salter, Author Knopf Publishing Group $22 (96p) ISBN 978-0-375-40531-0
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Paperback - 84 pages - 978-0-375-70499-4
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A casual yet authoritative confidence in formal verse's storytelling capabilities, like that of Rachel Hadas or James Merrill, is evinced by this fourth collection, following Salter's well-received Sunday Skaters. Although the poet's need to mourn ""little parts of the selves/ I can't be part of anymore"" can seem precious, her believability as ""somebody whose idea of/ reality requires a glance, over morning coffee, at violence"" will still find, and merit, admirers. Quotidian existence in Paris and New England, a dominant theme, is registered with quiet heaps of internal rhyme: ""hail hobbled us as we ran/ across the cobblestones""; ""as soon as one leaf's off the tree/ no day following can fall free/ of the drift of melancholy."" Memorably smart moments are the belated elegy for Louis MacNeice, ""master of the refrain"" and the long poem ""Alternating Currents"" which recalls Cynthia MacDonald's work in its moves from scenes of Helen Keller's childhood education to the duos of Holmes and Watson, and Graham Bell and his assistant Watson, and investigates how different modes of communication shape the messages they transmit. With carefully crafted images, the lead poem, ""Fire-Breathing Dragon,"" intimates the fragility of life and of life-telling, recounting a hot air balloon trip over Chartres: ""the tinted,/ interlocking shapes of crops/ became a story in stained glass/ our shadow could fall into."" Like Salter's other books, this Kiss is poised, noble--to use a favored word--and humane. (Apr.)
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