Reign of Snakes

Robert Wrigley, Author Penguin Books $18 (112p) ISBN 978-0-14-058919-1
Memories and loves, and a knowledge of the Midwest's plants, insects and animals, combine in Wrigley's fifth collection to create an eccentric ""bland, humdrum, quotidian guilt."" Nature poems like those preceding each of the volume's four parts cram the landscape with highly wrought sonic and syntactic resonances (a plant is ""a dessicate dump the strumpet sparrows/ spread far and wide""). But most often, the affected syntax surrounds more directly confessional moments of the hunter's peculiar agonies, as in the title poem: ""And I have hacked rattlesnakes to bloody hunks,/ grunting my rage, and made with a single surgical blow/ a guillotine of the shovel's edge."" By the end of poems like ""Flies,"" ""Hoarfrost,"" ""Art"" and ""Prey"" it doesn't much matter whether such violence is being critiqued or fetishized, as interest has long since waned. Shifting such interrogations of physicality to people, however, like the poet's wife and children, results in a bad fusion of Whitman, D. H. Lawrence and antiquarian porn: if after childbirth ""her breasts, those lovely baubles, became/ mammary glands, lactate factories, unfirmed/ unto womanliness and not a bit less lovely."" The results of such simplistic representations are condescending and baffling. At best, they bring one back to the piscatory eclogues and lush, self-involved phrasings of the Rhymer's Club. But unlike them, these poems don't seem to have anything to teach us about nature. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999
Release date: 06/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
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