cover image An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire

An Alchemist with One Eye on Fire

Clayton Eshleman, . . Black Widow Press, $15.95 (109pp) ISBN 978-0-9768449-5-2

The 31 poems in Eshleman's 15th collection embrace the world from multiple perspectives: the earth seen from outer space; details in the watercolors of the artist Mary Heebner; the situation at 4:22 p.m. in Como, Italy, on October 23, 2004. It takes its title from the essay that opens the book, a rambling, at times inspired, often bitter take on the state of contemporary American poetry. Eshleman (see page 39 for his translation of Vallejo) is an exuberant, associative poet: sentences unfold over stanzas, lines spill past the right margin. Political poems take aim at Bush and the inequality of wealth, but also seek pure empathy to "look at something and,/ as we used to say, see it for itself." At his best, Eshleman is capacious and empathic, as in "Combined Object," which imagines his sleeping wife's mind as it makes "its way across the 40,000 mile mid-ocean ridge," carrying "in her trailing skirts,/ a web filled with tiny men, drowned islands, radiolarian ooze." Eshleman's desire to bring diverse disciplines together—prehistoric cave images and menstrual mythology, for instance—can produce enchanting results, making "poetry a space that two people can enter and relate through." He can, however, be as alienating as he is inviting. (Nov.)