THE FAR SIDE OF THE EARTH

Tom Sleigh, Author . Houghton Mifflin $22 (112p) ISBN 978-0-618-30242-0

Lovers Roman and modern, the dead in ancient Greece and modern Manhattan and the poet's own recovery from life-threatening illness dominate this fifth, and best, volume from Sleigh (The Dreamhouse; The Chain). The book opens with "a stone hand reaching out/ caught in a seizure/ that could be a caress," and Sleigh's focus on troubled bodies and his abstract, psychologically driven lines display his continuing debts to Frank Bidart, whose influence (along with Thom Gunn's) remains visible throughout. Yet unlike them, Sleigh can open a poem about the late actor Bob Crane with "His head rose like a torch in a tomb," and can conclude a well-managed sequence about post-9/11 Manhattan with a translated Sumerian lament: "Our country's dead/ melt into the earth/ as grease melts in the sun." Sleigh aims at tactile and kinetic experience along with more metaphysical problems, depicting a "body... wanting to go down on its knees/ before the altar, blood hammering in its ears," or evoking in a sequence of love poems "wayward, trusting, amiable flesh." The lengthy sentences of "Bridge" make it a suitable elegy for a woman lost to Alzheimer's disease, while a pair of fine translations from Ovid show Sleigh by turns wry and grief-torn. Sleigh's descriptions remain clear and his declarations of love heartfelt. It is, however, grief that dominates this carefully calibrated book, which will (at the least) cement Sleigh's reputation as a poet of modern wounds, and may well open him up for larger readerships—or land him a major award. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/31/2003
Release date: 03/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 104 pages - 978-0-618-49238-1
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