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LUCA: Discourse on Life and Death

Steve Allen, Author VULGARIANS AT THE GATE: Trash TV and Raunch Radio—Rai (419p) ISBN 978-1-57392-874-8

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SKIRTS AND SLACKS

Halliday Jackson, Author, James Haskins, With, Ahmet Ertegun, Foreword by THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILTHal (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-019847-3

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JUICE

Renee Gladman, Author JUICERenee Gladman

"About the body I know very little, though I am steadily trying to improve myself, in the way animals improve themselves by licking," begins Gladman's agreeably personal and expansively philosophical first collection of four fictional prose poems. Like the recent debut from fellow San Franciscan Pamela Lu (Pamela: A Novel), Gladman describes the strange dilemmas of selfhood when basic assumptions about who we are and why we do what we do have collapsed under various pressures, linguistic and otherwise. The opening 12-page "Translation" adopts various sociological poses to describe a people who "migrated off the 'declining' coast" intent on discovering, via archeology and some odd logistical gestures, the secrets of its occluded past. In "Proportion Surviving," the "juice" of the book's title gets a delightful metaphorical ("I was happy. I mean, I was in my juice") and recollective workout—from a Proustian glass of apple juice, to stalking the bottled aisle of the grocery store, to a love "crisis" that finally gets the speaker off it, seemingly for good. In "No Through Street," the narrator's sister wins fame for painting a series of functional but nonstandard street signs, setting off a series of oblique meditations on race, intimate relationships ("if this woman is the directionalist whom everyone knows about, who is my sister?") and cultural capital. In the most fragmented but most evocative piece, "First Sleep," the search for a "Mrs. Gladman" is carried out amidst a series of "sleeps," as if identity itself can be discerned only in the synthetic, but punctuated, moments of the subconscious. Though one wishes at times for a more vividly descriptive language or more concentrated elaboration of the ideas, this is a rich and unusual collection, like an alien codex from a culture in one's own backyard. (Apr.)Correction: The publisher of Selected Poems of Solomon Ibn Gabriol (Forecasts, Mar. 12) is Princeton University Press.

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QUARTERS

James Harms, Author QUARTERSJames Harms

Although Harms's third book has plenty of well-made poems, it's distinguished largely by how they fit together. Harms (The Joy Addict) for the most part writes free-verse stories, portraits, snapshots and essays about contemporary middle- and working-class life—divorces, rough childhoods, freeways, beaches and other features, in particular, of southern California, though certain poems range east to deserts and other, older cities. In one poem, a young girl thinks about calling her absent father; in another, "Jessica and a boy she'll remember" explore an amusement park on "the last day/ of summer, 1967." One long-lined, essayistic poem discovers that the largest "gang" in L.A. is "not Bloods or Crips but the resigned/ and dispirited, those who've given up and just drive." Two poems remember dead musicians: one depicts the crowded funeral of the bluegrass musician Bill Monroe, and the other takes "Tea" with Kurt Cobain (a fairly painful reading experience for anyone who really likes Cobain's music). Fans of Philip Levine or David Wojahn will find a lot to like in some of Harms's individual poems, but little that's wholly new. The trick is that somewhere in each poem, Harms has placed a quarter. In the first, a parent drops 25 cents into a supermarket toy; in the last, a widower remembers how his late wife wore "a small woven sack on a string, and in it... a quarter" for an emergency call. In between, quarters help children play jacks, animate jukeboxes, become playing pieces in father-son checkers and even get melted down for ammunition. While Harms's conceit suggests that it's the small change, and small changes, of life that hold us together, most readers will demand more varied currency for poetry. (Apr.)

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QUEEN FOR A DAY

Denise Duhamel, Author QUEEN FOR A DAYDenise Duhamel $12.95 (120p) ISBN 978-0-8229-5762-1

Somewhere between Sex and the City, Sharon Olds and Spalding Gray lies the poetry of Denise Duhamel, who in six volumes during the 1990s (all from small independent or small university presses) established herself as a vivacious, sarcastic, uninhibited and sometimes sex-obsessed observer of contemporary culture. Long fascinated by downtown New York, Duhamel got poetic mileage from her once-rough neighborhoods. Now she lives and teaches in Miami: this new-and-selected sums up her NYC years. The weakest poems come first. "Sometimes the First Boys Don't Count" could be Olds exactly ("I swallowed like a brave girl taking her medicine"); "Bulimia" predictably evokes "the palate—hidden and secret as a clitoris." Later Duhamel found ways to write about sex and sexual politics without being bound to confessional realism. The Woman with Two Vaginas from 1995 claimed to translate Inuit tales: "He-Whose-Penis-Never-Slept," the title poem, and others found mythological parallels for dilemmas women still face. Kinky (1997), a series of poems about Barbie, played on the doll's status as ironic ideal: when "Barbie Joins a Twelve Step Program," having "been kidnapped by boys/ and tortured with pins," she realizes her "God must be Mattel." Duhamel's most recent work finds two new subjects: her husband's Filipino culture and language, and her position in the poetry world: "I was suddenly angry at my dad for not being Ashbery." (Apr.)

Forecast: With its self-conscious ease, its nervous in-jokes and its general lack of formal interest, Duhamel's work will be held up as a model by few highbrow critics. On the other hand, its humor, anger and forceful personality could make the book a genuine popular hit.

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FORTHCOMING

Jalal Toufic, Author FORTHCOMINGJalal Toufic

The Lebanese writer, film theorist and video artist Toufic is the author of three previous volumes, including Vampires: An Uneasy Essay on the Undead and Distracted, an analysis of culture as spectacle. Forthcoming can most conveniently be described as film criticism, since it returns to film as the subject and the springboard of its near-recursive meditations, though the writing rigorously defies categorization on a deeper level. Using abstractions like "substitution," "reflection" and "counterfeiting" as unstable structures around which associations, thoughts, philosophical propositions, speculations and poetic musings intersect, collide and interact, Toufic ranges over a plethora of art forms, genres and eras—Shakespeare, the Koran, Nietzsche, Rilke, Magritte, Shi'ism, David Lynch, descriptions of Cairo, the speaker's dating life, and the politics of the Middle East are just a few. At some points Toufic "updates" the material he is working with, such as an altered Hamlet, intended for avant-garde director Richard Foreman, or the criticism-cum-appropriation of the photo portrait of Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance in Kubrick's The Shining. The boundaries of description, analysis and speculation are intentionally thin, and Toufic manages to be evocative, exacting and vague all at the same time: "Was photography invented not so much to assuage some urge to arrest the moment, but partly owing to an intuition that it already existed in the universe, in the form of the immobilization and flattening at the event horizon?" Toufic blurs the boundaries of critical thinking and poetically pitched writing (risking incomprehensibility in the process), but his work reveals a richly interconnected world that can be completely accepting of its own particularities. (Apr.)

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THEY CAN'T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME

Lori B. Andrews, Author THEY CAN'T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME

Departing little from such well-titled volumes as The Common and The Pose of Happiness, this fourth collection contains well-crafted poems about Jewish-American middle-class midlife and strife, thoughtful ekphrases, and nostalgic goings-over of origins and relationships: "Once, when I was a child,/ my mother lied to me. Maybe that day/ I was too demanding, more likely I needed/ consolation—my schoolmates so lucky,/ so confident,/ so gentile." Such concerns carry over into the poet's literary life (a dominant theme), as "Keep Going" makes clear: "...your name misspelled on last evening's program;// the party uptown after the ceremonies and readings—/ an editor praising C's poems as if you weren't// standing there beside him, craving appreciation." The title poem's Gershwin-refrained questionings—"wouldn't I choose if I could not to be human or/ any other mammal programmed for cruelty?"—give way, in "I Wish I Want I Need," to unhurried lines explaining the plot of the 1970s film The Way We Were and why the speaker admires Barbra Streisand's performance therein. The grasping Freudian overtones finally overwhelm poems like "My Dream after Mother Breaks Her Hip" ("I can't dream her power away/ I'm caught here/ in eternity's shade// where I begin to move/ gradually gracelessly/ to embrace her// tree muse emptiness/ cage world") and aren't really ever relieved here, even by "Three Provincetown Mornings." (Apr.)

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THE ADAM OF TWO EDENS: Selected Poems

Mahmoud Darwish, Author, Mahmud Darwish, Author, Munir Akash, Editor THE ADAM OF TWO EDENS: Selected Poems

"They never left. They never returned./ Their hearts were almonds in the streets," writes Darwish (Mural) in "The Tragedy of Narcissus, the Comedy of Silver." A revered Palestinian poet—recipient of France's Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres medal and the Lotus Prize, and author of 20 poetry collections among other works—Darwish was six at time of the Israeli occupations of 1948; his father was killed and his family fled to Lebanon. As a young man, he was repeatedly imprisoned for reading his poetry and not carrying the proper papers. He has since lived all over the world, and advised the PLO Executive Committee between 1982 and 1993, when he resigned in protest of the Oslo accords. In these 14 long and serial poems, translated by various hands and put into their final English versions here by Daniel Abdalhayy Moore, variegated repetitions evince the panorama and detail of refugee experience: "a desert for eternal absurdity/ a desert for the tablets of the law/ ...for school books, prophets and scientists." The voice throughout accumulates a rich mix of world-weariness and endurance: "Ruba'iyat" repeats the refrain "I've seen all I want to see of..." with different referents ("of the sea," "of blood," "of lightning"), while in "Eleven Planets," the speaker finds his own identity foreign: "fearing... my fountain's water,/ milk on the lips of figs, fearing my own language." (Apr.)Forecast:Darwish's work was at the center of an Israeli curriculum controversy last year, reported in the New York Times and elsewhere. When it was announced that Darwish's work would be compulsory for Israeli high school students, everyone from Jewish hard-liners to then Prime Minister Ehud Barak weighed in. American readers, with these fine translations now available, can decide for themselves. Expect serious sales on campus.

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HOW TO DO THINGS WITH TEARS

Allen R. Grossman, Author HOW TO DO THINGS WITH TEARSAl $14.95 (98p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1464-3

"Hey kid! Sex and the death of men bring tourists from near and far." So opens "Thunderstruck," one of many poems from Grossman's ninth and perhaps most personal volume of verse that relies on vaulting power, elaborate knowledge and immediate pathos. Long a noted poet (The Ether Dome) and literary critic (The Sighted Singer), the MacArthur-granted Grossman combines philosophical sophistication, biblical and Judaic learning and a self-chastising, semi-Miltonic ambition in poems and sets of poems that try to tie spiritual striving to quirky, everyday observation. A "bloody animal" and an absent God explore "The weirdest structure/ known: Town Hall, Enigma, MN," while another poem demands: "O my particular student, where is your heart?" Many of Grossman's new poems focus on companionship, travel and loneliness. One series tells the (hard to follow) story of an allegorical sailor. A longer, more successful sequence consuming about a third of the book follows "Irene" (apparently the poet's Minnesotan mother) on a journey to Minneapolis: along the way "Wallace Stevens entertains a sex worker," "The first name of the new poet can/ be seen/ through the erasure," and a "chained dog" decides not to "cease howling,/ Christmas or any other day, as if there was a God,/ whose only prophet was this desolate animal." Playing on a famous work of "ordinary language" philosophy (J.L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words), Grossman's title insists that poems are a way in which real persons share feeling and pain. Most of those sentiments reamain artificial here (in the best, poetic sense of the word)—as well as allusive, demanding and elaborate. (Apr. 26)

Forecast:Grossman has a solid following among the many students who have passed through Johns Hopkins (where he is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities) and in the po-biz in general. Since it is his first new collection since 1995, that market has hardly been saturated.

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BEFORE TIME COULD CHANGE THEM: The Complete Poems of Constantine P. Cavafy

Constantine Cavafy, Author, Theoharis C. Theoharis, Translator, Gore Vidal, Foreword by BEFORE TIME COULD CHANGE THEM: The Complete Poems of Consta $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-15-100519-2

Though Cavafy never published a book during his lifetime, preferring to circulate his poems privately in broadsides and pamphlets, acclaim for his work has grown steadily, both in the U.S. and abroad, since his death in 1933. A Greek citizen who lived and worked in Alexandria, Cavafy is esteemed both for his elegant redactions of classical and ancient history and myth, and for his gorgeously muted and candidly homosexual poems of erotic longing and loss. As is clear in these conversational and freewheeling versions, those two contexts don't mark a major division in his oeuvre, as desire frequently enters the former, while the latter are typically informed by a classical sense of decorum: "Yesterday, walking in a remote quarter,/ I passed outside the house/ I used to enter when I was very young./ Eros, with his magnificent force,/ had seized my body there." Recurrent themes of the joys of youth and art, along with an emphasis on Hellenism in all eras, also lend the poems a remarkable consistency. Like the expanded edition of Rae Dalven's landmark translations, this book presents a number of earlier efforts that the mature Cavafy repudiated. Unlike Dalven's collection, however, this volume presents Cavafy's authorized work in the order the poet gave it before his death. Though translator Theoharis Theoharis's versions are commendably relaxed, the windily inconsequential preface by Gore Vidal is no substitute for Auden's insightful introduction in the Dalven volume or for the helpful biographical sketch that appears in Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard's collection. Containing nine poems never before published in English, this volume will no doubt be a necessity for completists readers, though those new to Cavafy's work will do well with any of the collections currently available. (Apr.)

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