Smokes

Susan Wheeler, Author Four Way Books $12.95 (72p) ISBN 978-1-884800-19-1
Often a dance of malapropism, jarring surrealist and pop imagery, violent pastiche and merciless non sequiturs, Wheeler's second book falls somewhere between John Ashbery and Charles Bernstein in its high-end schtick appropriation and baroque, metaphysical strains. It signals a further rapprochement of the militantly ironic stance of the postmodern with the comforting, middle-classy closures of the sentimental lyric, as announced in the cheeky opening homage to Robert Frost, which is singled out by Robert Hass in his afterword: ""The girls are drifting in their ponytails/ and their pig iron boat. So much for Sunday./ The dodo birds are making a racket/ to beat the band. You could have come too."" Among other vaguely discernible narratives, ""Casino Night"" finds the poet faced with a choice between reading and ""Hook's Casino"": ""I got the roil of/ American swells, the bugs and the sad TV sedimentation,/ the gamboling cells under glass in the stratified light,/ a limpid one-two over chips on the felt./ I might not be right."" Others, like the single sentence elegy ""Song for the Spirit of Natalie Going,"" rollick on a dense info-stream of alliteration reminiscent of a howling, be-bop Hopkins: ""...in seersucker bib, overalled, astonished, in dazzling fix/ on the small crawling lights in their spaceship of night.../ bezzed by mobile HEH HEH..."" While some poems seem based more on a heavily allusive but unstated argument for a postmodern poetry rather than the mundane, but felt, need for it, the book's desire to astound, contort, pervert and yet sing at all turns makes it a singular delight. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/30/1998
Release date: 04/01/1998
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