cover image Engrafted Word

Engrafted Word

Karl Kirchwey, Author Holt McDougal $13 (80p) ISBN 978-0-8050-5607-5

Delicately crafted and suffused with eros, the spare, lucid poems of Kirchwey's third collection continue mapping the ghostly presences conjured by travel and the historical imagination. Lingering first in New England, this poet's quiet classicism gradually unveils the falling empire of late-antiquity Rome, quarries in Tunisia and Passion Week on the decaying island of Ischia. ""Roman Spring"" presents juxtapositions that reveal the city's competing incarnations: ""jasmine and excrement; flowering capers;/ the salt sea smell behind the smell of petroleum;// ...and a travertine curb polished like something priceless/ by the bus's slow turn as it grinds uphill."" Building on the achievements of A Wandering Island (1990) and Those I Guard (1993), Kirchwey's impressive formalist tendencies emerge in ""Villanelle,"" ""The Wound"" (a six-sestet ekphrasis of Verrocchio's Christ and Saint Thomas) and ""The Horologium of Augustus,"" set in stanzas whose lines ingeniously imitate the exponential increments of the title's sundial. Devious, sardonic wit comes to the fore in ""Arcadia"" and ""Syracuse,"" both of which parody the excesses of a traveler's expectations. Other poems are unexpectedly personal: the paired sonnets ""Zoo Story"" and ""In Transit"" find the poet arrested by objects and places that recall his late mother and father, and ""Tiber Island"" becomes the setting for a poignant elegy for Amy Clampitt. Whatever weathered sites Kirchwey's lyrics visit, they contain fresh, theatrical mysteries and sustain the awareness of an uneasy fit between the real and ideal. (Apr.) FYI: Kirchway is director of the Unterberg Poetry Center of the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in New York City.