cover image Birds of the Air

Birds of the Air

David Yezzi. Carnegie-Mellon, $15.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-88748-571-8

Sad and serious, attentive to meter and balance yet no slave to form, the dramatic monologues, rough laments, strict rhymes and accomplished syllabics in this third volume from Yezzi (Azores) go far beyond expectations: it should impress not just those who follow “formal” poetry generally, but almost anyone who has an abiding love for the poetry of Robert Frost. Executive editor of the New Criterion, Yezzi draws carefully on the non- and pre-modernist past: what he adds is, sometimes, a caustic sadness peculiar to his generation, a sense of nothing left, as in a poem on an old photograph: “The scribble across/ the back, your name—/ if more was meant,/ it never came.” Failed romance, disconsolate Eros, provides a ground note for a volume that also observes urban privilege and the urban poor, though it keeps coming back to the poet’s own Larkinesque, or perhaps Frostian, failures: “We are as useless as an open lock,/ more insubstantial than a drinking song.” Yet Yezzi’s greatest ambition arrives instead in dramatic and narrative verse, especially in the four-part, two-voice, 16-page “Tomorrow & Tomorrow,” in which a 20-something writer and actor loses his girlfriend while touring Europe in Macbeth: “Of course, there’s things that won’t let you forget/ how what you wanted is what hurt you most,/ how it was happiness itself betrayed you.” (Feb.)