Cenotaph: Poems

Eric Pankey, Author
Eric Pankey, Author Alfred A. Knopf $22 (104p) ISBN 978-0-375-40764-2
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Paperback - 104 pages - 978-0-375-70974-6
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At a crossroads between lyrical formalism and jazzy modulations akin to the best of Charles Wright, almost every poem of Pankey's fifth collection reads as a kind of ars poetica. In couplets of long fourteen syllable lines, Pankey humbly admits ""I have no voice to sing"" (""Dream Landscape with the Old Brickyard Road Creek and Blind Willie Johnson""). Yet from prose poems and blank verse to the stanzaic improvisations of his ""Elegiac Variations,"" Pankey's spiritual investigations embody a wide array of musical influences, from traditional hymns to contemporary folk songs (and an epigraph from Bob Dylan). Sometimes baroque diction and bluesy refrains fuse in a winning self-consciousness about language: ""Begin with a clay bank, a chill wind's insufflation./ Begin with thumbflint, a fever, some sticks to fire the kiln."" But such meditations on logos often run up against solipsism as the self tries to assert its place at the poem's center: ""No pain no suffering to be read/ As compensation as consolation for our own."" Pankey seems to be working toward a more integrated style that has yet to find its ideal subject. Lines like these from ""Scared and Profane Love"" indicate that it will happen: ""Does it matter if what I behold is a gold braid/ Inlaid upon ebony, or the wind-tousled jackstraw// Of salt hay that edges the marrow of the mudflats?"" (Jan.)
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