Last Blue

Gerald Stern, Author W. W. Norton & Company $22 (112p) ISBN 978-0-393-04897-1
Stern's 12th collection is his first since winning the 1998 National Book Award for the new and selected This Time. The poems still rely on Stern's inimitable blend of coiled anger, love of life and raffish, on-the-outside-looking-in wit. Poem after poem reflects on what it means to have been a Jew, a Pennslyvanian, a nature-and-weather watcher, a world traveler and, for a longer time than many poets of his stature, an unknown writer during the middle of the last century: ""If you can stand Strauss then so can I,/ oh filthy Danube, oh filthy Delaware, oh filthy Allegheny.// And anyone who never opened a Murphy bed/ night after night for seven years without ripping/ the sheet and had neither desk nor dresser can't walk/ in my shoes or wear my crocodile t-shirt."" Stern's remembrances are not so much nostalgias as attempts to telescope the speaker's world and worldview through verse-talking, to test everyday language's ability to render his experiences to his liking, or at least his satisfaction. The trick often works so well that readers won't notice that the language is far from ordinary, and that the poet's barrage of things are carefully chosen: ""I had a Brown's Beach jacket with a reddish/ thorn in one of the pockets, which was my toothpick/ for thirty-five years, and a vest to match, and a flattened acorn I kept in the darkness; and I had a pencil// I used to keep my balance, the edges were eaten,/ the lead was gray, the green eraser was worn/ down to the metal, and I had a spiral notebook/ I kept for emotions, and I folded my money."" While there are few surprises here, the quality of the poems is consistently quite high, and the voice behind them remains winning and companionable. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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