Army Cats

Tom Sleigh. Graywolf, $15 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-55597-583-8
The best work in Sleigh's eighth collection continues his effort to use the fruits of civilization to confront the violence and destruction of our time. The prose piece "‘This Thing of Darkness'"—which treats a cellphone video of Saddam Hussein's hanging as a Shakespearean work in progress—gives new resonance to both sources. Other poems of war provide a shocking clarity, as in one in which "the rubble-buried bodies' still living/ relatives kept calling to see who survived" and an ambulance driver has to "take the phone out of the body//part pocket: Hello—no, no, he's here,/right here, but not—" Unfortunately, Sleigh's concern about the poet's role as witness pre-empts many of these same poems, making the speaker the inadvertent star of others' suffering without finding a way to probe what that awkwardness might mean. Several of the poems dealing with childhood, personal relationships, and works of art are too constrained to make full use of a talent that can expansively conjure "Planet Pizza Crust, Planet Souvlaki Scrap,/ Planet of Her Little House of Cardboard on the Corner,// Planet of Her Little House of Rain When It Rains"; others are powerfully realized, such as a tribute to jazz legend Charles Mingus who, in death, sees "Fats coughing blood,/ dead at 23, Bird without wings, but no G-O-D." (May)
Reviewed on: 04/18/2011
Release date: 05/01/2011
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