Life on Earth

Frederick Seidel, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $22 (80p) ISBN 978-0-374-18685-2
""What is happening/ Is blood in urine."" Controversial, confrontational and acidly colloquial as ever, Seidel bills this loose sequence of 33 short poems, each in eight rapid quatrains, as the second book in a trilogy begun with last year's The Cosmos Poems. It spans the heights and depths of human history, from space travel to the Nazi regime, from Hollywood to Polynesia to ""James Baldwin in Paris."" Seidel is at his best here when teasing the psychological out of the political: ""Joan of Arc"" explains, with deliberate anachronism, ""Nobody wants her/ On their side in games at school/ So the retard/ Is wired to explode."" Elsewhere, Seidel is content to depict sound and fury, whether lobbing ""laser-guided bombs"" at Moby Dick or announcing, ""You don't know what you mean/ And that's what I mean."" Writing of sex, Seidel continues to walk a male hetero-aggro tightrope--a poem set in a hospital imagines ""a murderous head of state with beautiful big breasts// Who is already under and extremely nude."" The devil-may-care delivery and broad ambitions of this seventh collection place Seidel closer to Norman Mailer--or perhaps to the Plath of ""Daddy"" or ""Lady Lazarus""--than to most current writers of verse, or to Seidel's earlier Lowell-like overtures. Yet readers who have followed his work since the '70s should find his current project terra cognita, and just the thing for the deflation of the medical-industrial complex. (Apr.) Forecast: While well-known to readers of Raritan and other distinguished journals, Seidel hasn't managed to gain the kind of readership that, for example, FSG list-mate C.K. Williams has. Despite the flash, this book won't manage the trick either, but it adds incrementally to a career slowly reaching beyond cognoscenti.
Reviewed on: 04/09/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
Paperback - 80 pages - 978-0-374-52846-1
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