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FUCK YOU—ALOHA—I LOVE YOU

Juliana Spahr, Author . Wesleyan Univ. $12.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-8195-6525-9 ISBN 0-8195-6524-5

An understated, careful examination of the individual in the troubled nexus of the law, community, culture and, centrally, language, Spahr's follow-up to 1995's Response continues that book's search for the verbal means to realize others without resort to an identity-based voice. She succeeds brilliantly with "a younger man, an older man, and a woman," one of four long sequences here (along with two shorter), fixing the reader in the center of a minimal, yet cinematic narrative. The poem is a plain description of the movements of the three title stand-ins as they perform a gymnastic routine that somehow conveys a playful schematic for an ethics of relationships among individuals: "In culture an older man and a younger man stand facing each other with their feet spread for balance./ They place their hands on each other's shoulders and together they flex their knees and keep their backs straight./ A woman steps onto their thighs, one foot on a younger man's thigh, one foot on an older man's thigh./ A younger man and an older man are support. A woman is a tower." The sequence "gathering / palolo stream" concerns the conflict of native Hawai'ian property traditions (Spahr has taught at the University of Hawai'i Manoa) and the imposition of rights to private property; at the center of the poem is the resonant void of a parking lot to which no road leads, and yet which stands in the way of a contested gathering place by a stream. This symbolic void, like the scream of the punk-rocker in the book's eponymous sequence, lends a strong air of nihilism to what is otherwise Spahr's project of hope. For Spahr, who recently published a critical study of social identity and literature titled Everybody's Autonomy, this tension between the black heart of anger and faith in community makes this a distinct, ambitious book of poems. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
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