YOU NEVER KNOW

Ron Padgett, Author . Coffee House $14.95 (84p) ISBN 978-1-56689-128-8

Coming through with clarity and charm in his seventh full collection, Padgett is the undisputed Zen master of the chicane, maintaining a perfectly readable and casual tone while turning meanings on a dime, or several dimes, on his way to a reliably radiant and melancholy conclusion. The giddy excitement of these changes is difficult to excerpt: "Sudden Flashes" begins in media res, "hit the sky hot/ as javelins vibrating in a baobab/ that became a mast with chevrons/ aflutter, and the ghost ship/ floats into an icy abyss." Recent work has tended toward a prosy style that fronts luminous anecdotes with outrageous titles ("Licking Igor's Head"; "Extreme Vindaloo"; "The Missing Lips") that remain startling even after the eccentric observations have come to seem natural. These poems make a go at the epistemological concerns of the title, but like his collaborator Ted Berrigan or his predecessors James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch, Padgett shines brightest when he interrupts his crazy word combinations to be serious about love and death. And in his breathless praise of a ballerina ("Little Ode to Suzanne Farrell"), he transcends his preoccupation with geometry to soar: "No ode is big/ or fast enough to have/ the very all of you inside it/ so I will have to be like you/ and climb inside myself and fly/ into the outline that the pattern/ of my moving self has left behind." While he acknowledges in the title poem that it's impossible to ever really be certain about "oh anything," this is Padgett's most moving book to date. (June)

Reviewed on: 06/17/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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