Olives

A E Stallings, Author
A.E. Stallings. /TriQuarterly, $16.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-81015-226-7
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Stallings’s sweet tooth for meter, rhyme, and traditional form has earned her something of an outlier reputation in contemporary poetry. She skimps on none of these inclinations in her latest, a roving exploration of domestic and classical lives in which anagrammatic poems, sonnets, and sharp villanelles appear alongside forms as varied as fibs, etudes, and bedtime stories. Though one can hardly argue with the precision of her ear when she is nestled at home in antiquity—with a ghost ship that “plies an inland sea. Dull/ With rust, scarred by a jagged reef. In Cyrillic, on her hull/ Is lettered Grief”—Stallings fumbles with certain of the mythologies, namely the fall of man, onto which she opens her rhyming dictionary. “Did/ Eve,” she writes, “believe/ or grapple/ over the apple? Eavesdropping Adam heard her say/ to the snake-oil salesman she was not born yesterday.” When she unleashes her technical gifts upon poems in which she builds a new narrative instead of building upon an old one, Stallings achieves a restrained, stark poise that is threatening even by New Formalism standards: “After the argument, all things were strange./ They stood divided by their eloquence.../ Now there were real things to rearrange.” (May)
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