King of Shadows

Aaron Shurin, Author . City Lights $16.95 (175p) ISBN 978-0-87286-490-0

This emotionally potent collection of 20 essays by noted Bay Area poet Shurin (Involuntary Lyrics ) begins with a meditation on his fear of birds (“of course they’re dinosaurs”) and coming out in radical UC-Berkeley in the late 1960s. The collection progresses through meditations on how the difference between Shakespeare’s Oberon and Puck shaped his identity as a gay man and a poet, and his indebtedness to Robert Duncan, Frank O’Hara and Denise Levertov. The accumulation of biographic and literary details conjures up an apparitional dreamscape of a very specific moment in American history—a new sense of personal and literary freedom, a new period of progressive political and literary ideas. Shurin’s idiosyncratic style can startle with its imagery and captures a complicated, conflicted relationship to several cultural identities. Describing his anxiety about his looks before going to a bar, he writes “oh, my wiry, independent, shtetl hair, my Ukrainian ribbons from my mother’s side, folkloric bonnet of curls, was out of the question, way too heavily accented, ruefully unacceptable, untidy, un-Californian....” The author addresses forthrightly the question of AIDS by the end of this book, one of Shurin’s best. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2008
Release date: 06/01/2008
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