Open Field, Understory

James Seay, Author
James Seay, Author Louisiana State University Press $15.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-8071-2130-6
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Hardcover - 160 pages - 978-0-8071-2129-0
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Drawing from four previous collections and interspersing some newer poems, Seay (The Light as They Found It) focuses his considerable technical skill on evoking a deliberate sense of history and place. Whether contemplating a friendship gone awry, bringing his son to the grave of his great-grandfather or coming upon a cave in the south of France, the poet's eye is held unwaveringly on his subject, sometimes looking with such dry meticulousness, however, that the poem recedes from view, sinking under the weight of his inward gaze. Yet moments of transcendence are built on details too. ""The Majorette on the Self-Rising Flour Sign"" depicts a gang of kids sexually fondling a billboard majorette, ending with ""But what should also break our hearts is how we thought/ That this was commodity the same as flour that could be bought."" Another poem brings us to the speaker's poverty-stricken Mississippi childhood and to Moscow where, as an adult, he searches for the old Faberge shop, thinking that ""maybe to have pissed into the figurative/ wind and a hole in the ground/ is to be drawn to the abstract gloss/ of privilege...."" At his best, Seay looks both inward and outward, as in ""Where Books Fall Open,"" in which he considers the heft of a book in his hand and asks: ""Where then will our own book fall open/ and with what sweetness of the where we have not been?"" Applying his eye for detail with an ear for the unexpected, Seay finds a voice that lifts delicately off the page. (Feb.)
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