This Time: New and Selected Poems

Gerald Stern, Author
Gerald Stern, Author W. W. Norton & Company $27.5 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-04640-3
Reviewed on: 05/04/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
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At once self-involved and sympathetic, Stern catalogues with wry dexterity a vast range of sensory data and cultural detritus, always united by ""women and men of all sizes and all ages/ living together, without satire."" This healthy collection of new poems and selections from his seven previous volumes (Odd Mercy, etc.) is remarkable for its generosity of spirit, manifested in a warm surrealism that is often turned with humor toward his own past (""My great specialty was darkness then/ and radiant sexual energy"") as a way of understanding the recurrent questions of growing old: ""Why did it take so long/ for me to get lenient? What does it mean one life/ only?"" The greatest joy here lies in the excellence of Stern's longer sentences, which recall Whitman in their life-like pulse and flow, in their subtle verbal patternings that submerge rhetorical artifice beneath the breath of actual speech. Stern's closing assessment of his poem ""Your Animal"" is indicative of the ethics of the volume as a whole: ""It is my poem against the starving heart./ It is my victory over meanness."" When the poet warns, ""Nothing is too small for my sarcasm,"" the counsel is a false snare; irony is not sarcasm, and it is Stern's ironic voice that allows for ""some understanding, some surcease,/ some permanence"" without lapsing into lyric sentimentality. (June)
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