Letters to a Stranger

Thomas James, Author, Lucie Brock-Broido, Introduction by . Graywolf $15 (108p) ISBN 978-1-55597-502-9

James took his own life in January 1974. He was 27, gay and the author of one poetry book published in 1973 by Houghton Mifflin; it received little attention. However, since then, in American poetry’s back rooms, a kind of cult has grown around it—passed from poet to poet in photocopy, Letters to a Stranger has become an underground classic, largely due to an obsessive campaign by the poet Lucie Brock-Broido, who has written a shimmering epistolary introduction for this edition, which includes 13 uncollected poems, and is the second volume in Graywolf’s Re/ View reissue series. James was enthralled by Plath’s Ariel , suicide and the transformative capacities of his own verbal music. Mostly dramatic monologues, his poems speak directly to their “stranger,” haunted (“I am heir to the old decisions”) and hauntingly true: “It is easy to surrender to the point of a needle:/ It is like lying down to love.... ” Self-dramatizing, brilliantly imaginative, wildly sad, they long, with romantic futility, to be heard, reveling and wallowing in the wide spaces of their privacy: “I will last forever. I am not impatient,” says James, in the voice of a mummified Egyptian noble, as if aware his book would last: “I’ll lie here till the world swims back again.” (July)

Reviewed on: 07/21/2008
Release date: 06/01/2008
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 85 pages - 978-0-395-17207-0
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