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THE CLOUD OF KNOWABLE THINGS

Elaine Equi, Author . Coffee House $15 (92p) ISBN 978-1-56689-142-4

Ranging in subject from the metaphysical woes of consumer culture to the attractions of silence and "The Seven Veils of Spring," Equi (Voice Over) combines two virtues that don't normally go together. On the one hand, this book contains short, witty, easily understood poems about shoes, hair and shopping; on the other, the poems explore, with care and wariness, the language we use to talk about them. Terse stanzas and whittled-down remarks in these poems go beyond her previous work in reacting to every delight and annoyance of metropolitan life. One series of half-comic poems entitled "fantasy" presents "Homeless club kids/ living on rice, beans/ and Gitanes"; another series ("Return of the Sensuous Reader") invites us to "change the gender of all the pronouns in a poem/ and see for yourself." Equi even manages to touch—lightly, distantly and effectively—on life in the city after Sept. 11, both in "Can't Complain" (with its "anti- apocalypse") and in the journal-like "Reset" ("Starting over./ No loitering"). Equi's most frequent attitude is a gently appalled feminism, a stance one step back from everything; her best work combines lyric depth with restrained and epigrammatic wit, respecting not just "the so-called power of words" but a quiet resistance to them. (Apr.)

Forecast:Like Ann Lauterbach, Equi is a post–New York School woman writer whose work is due for evaluation on its own merits, rather than comparisons with forebears. This New York–centered collection might provide the occasion.

Reviewed on: 02/17/2003
Release date: 01/01/2003
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