Fugitive Pieces

Anne Michaels, Author Vintage Books USA $15 (304p) ISBN 978-0-679-77659-8
Three collections of poems by novelist Michaels (Fugitive Pieces) have been brought together for their first U.S. publication: The Weight of Oranges, Miner's Pond and Skin Divers. As the sensuousness of these titles suggests, Michaels goes for a portentous lyric well-stocked with physical details, action verbs, simile and metaphor--""we are black smudges on the frozen river""; ""We were sent for a reason,/ like curtains blown in from an open window/ to knock over a cup."" When she writes from a perspective one assumes to be her own (""Miner's Pond""; ""Words for the Body""), Michaels's lush and elliptical narratives are winning. Increasingly, her poems take historical figures and their lovers as subjects and speakers, echoing her work in historical fiction, and including Alfred Doblin, Johannes Kepler, Karen Blixen, Amedeo Modigliani, Anna Akhmatova and Marie Curie. These poems don't always carry the freight of their subjects' fame lightly, though, and by the book's second half the metaphors begin to misfire as bad homages, as in the Akhmatovesque ""Birds plunge their cries like needles/ into the thick arm of afternoon."" The worst merely recap generic moments of pathos in a tone more borrowed from biography than reanimated by sympathy. Fans of fellow Canadian and Knopf novelist-poet Michael Ondaatje may find much to admire here though, and the better poems should find a significant audience. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 05/25/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
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