New and Selected Poems: 1974-1994

Stephen Dunn, Author W. W. Norton & Company $22 (296p) ISBN 978-0-393-03618-3

``I love abstractions, I love / to give them a nouny place to live, / a firm seat in the balcony / of ideas, while music plays.'' Dunn ( Landscape at the End of the Century ) doesn't lapse from the human in his affection for ideas or in his playful working with them; his poetry can read like a conversation held within the generous confines of an unusually abundant self. He and his ideas are good company for us. Part of the persuasion is accomplished with images: in ``Nova Scotia,'' jellyfish ``washed up / like small blue parachutes''; in ``The Snow Leopard'' a girl is ``half rockette'' and ``half American flag.'' But so much depends upon the billowing up and the resting of Dunn's thoughts, on their sheer movement. That's what forms and opens the poems, makes reading them seem like hobnobbing with someone who is both more observant and more precise than you could have been. We may hardly notice the skill of the movement, how fluent the monologue, but it marks us again and again: ``Last night Joan Sutherland was nuancing / the stratosphere on my fine-tuned tape deck, / and there was my dog Buster with a flea rash, / his head in his privates. Even for Buster /this was something like happiness.'' The collection includes work from eight past books and 16 new poems. (Apr.)