Michael Burkard. Sarabande, $21 (88p) ISBN 1-889330-52-3
A fugue-like sensibility sustains Burkard's lyric imagination throughout his eighth collection, harking back to previous book-length investigations like Fictions from the Self and My Secret Boat. The psychological insights often border on obsession, reading like an insomniac's notebook and relying heavily on repetition. At their best, the images feel dream-like-"One time he washed the moon and put it in his pocket. One time he/ washed the moon and it didn't dry right and it appeared to be all/ crushed"-and the sounds are hypnotic: "When the quietness is both dim and fail dim and fail/ When the remembering is you against a you you do not recall." But such techniques can fall flat, subjecting the reader to flourishes of rhetorical stutter, whether the poet feels "a genuine need to thank the writer/ again, and he did, and again, and he did" or suffers at his own sense of bewilderment: "I don't know... I don't know what/ I think/ think about what I write./ I don't want to know." Though Burkard employs a wide variety of forms, from single-stanza poems to poems strung together with numerous sections, some come across as mere exercises in anaphora ("Kafka Tom"; "No") and epistrophe ("Radius of a Ghost"). In his notes, Burkard curiously thanks his editors at Sarabande "for arranging the contents" of Unsleeping. Perhaps Burkard ("The rearranger rearranging the rearranged./ The lone rearranger. Rangers of the rearranged, rearrangers/ of the purple sage") should have waited until he himself was fully awake. (Feb.)
Forecast: Like Charlie Smith and Franz Wright, Burkard unflinchingly investigates the current brand of unpretentious, unacademic, borderline anti-intellectual, white male, baby boomer, tough guy poses. This book, Burkard's second for Sarabande, has an intimate-but-not-embarrassing tone that is rough enough for Bukowski readers but smart enough for William Matthews fans; handselling could help reach those micromarkets.