Susan Stewart, Author . Univ. of Chicago $22.50 (132p) ISBN 978-0-226-77443-5

Poet-critic and MacArthur fellow Stewart's (On Longing ) fourth book of verse contains two pairs of long poems on the elements—"Sung from the generation of AIR" and "Drawn from the generation of FIRE" at the book's beginning and "Wrought from the generation of EARTH" and "Flown from the generation of WATER" at its close. They surround a long middle section of "shadow georgics" organized alphabetically by title: "Apples," "Bees," "Braid," "Cross/ X," "Dark the Star," down through "X/ Cross," "To You and for You" and "Zero." This clever, embedded patterning suggests that the alphabet and language are akin to nature's elements, elements that the poet gathers and disperses into a variety of visually divergent forms, enacting the perpetual mutability of nature. In "Braid," for instance, Stewart moves from a painstaking description of fingers and hair to the telling, if somewhat heavy-handed announcement: "You can tell a story/ many ways. You can leave/ something out or put// something in; you can fool/ yourself and hide./ You can shake out// the form or try/ to manage every wisp,/ but the latter will// only bring you pain." Throughout the collection, the poet delves into human universals (memory, breath, voice, whisper, loneliness, etc.) while constantly attentive to etymology and word choice, and she makes scholarly reference to scores of classical and Biblical figures including Virgil, Hecuba, Peleus, Isaiah, Lot and Lazarus. But as in previous work, it is moments of brief and simple aphorism ("Build fires to worship the wood, burn wood to worship the fire ") that forcefully summarize the book's project. (Oct. )

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
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