THE MERCY SEAT: Collected and New Poems 1967–2000

Norman Dubie, Author
Norman Dubie, Author . Copper Canyon $30 (409p) ISBN 978-1-55659-155-6
Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
Paperback - 409 pages - 978-1-55659-212-6
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A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the mid-'60s, Dubie has spent the last few decades ensconced at Arizona State. The clean, Stevensian, surreal declaration that has served as jumping-off point for many of his generation has served Dubie just as well throughout this 30-plus year oeuvre tour, to the point where the master haunts poems like "The Clouds of Magellan (Aphorisms of Mr. Canon Aspirin)" and "Buffalo Clouds over the Maestro Hoon." The early work reads like high-brow pastoral, forming a pleasant, poignant, mildly foreboding kaleidoscope of images, as famous American and European artists and writers mill among cloudfall and bobbins and hymn books and ferns and hints of World War II. In the better, later poems of the book's second half, things begin to jut out and matter: if, as in an early poem, "We love the details mice leave in the flour," the later work finds "We are now the mice in field/ Frightened by the orange fattening crest/ Of three small fires circling/ The wreckage of a blue and white Cesnas." The moments gathered in a typical Dubie poem are suspended in a kind of vectoral stasis; the car crash in "The Open Happens in the Midst of Beings" is poised against "two waiters, clearly in love, smoking by the river." Dubie dedicates the book to the Dalai Lama, and when political realities and the true stakes of the world anchor his complexly balanced poems, as they begin to do as the book progresses, his project comes into focus. As with Iowa gatekeeper and Copper Canyon stablemate Marvin Bell, it may be that Dubie's best work is ahead of him. (May)

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