cover image Push the Mule

Push the Mule

John Godfrey, Author Figures $12.5 (96p) ISBN 978-1-930589-06-3

In his first book of poetry since 1988's Midnight on Your Left, Godfrey's No Wave meets New York School aesthetic shows him to be one of the most observant and imaginative urban poets working today. These 50 prose poems have the pace and feel of experimental fiction, with sentences combining deliberately to create swirls of meaning rather than stable narrative environments. Yet for all the slowed-down nods to Surrealism (""The whole hallway is ready to start rising, like an elevator under leaves"") the best poems here use Beat-inspired word twists that point simultaneously to the sublime and to the real world, resplendent in trash: ""Windshield spit allover by streetside trees breaks out the tunnel into a blinding halo Queens didn't earn. By seven-thirty morn, the LIE [Long Island Expressway] shines golden white while factories either side rend their fumes awry."" A beautiful elegy for the poet Jim Brodey uses this talking-around-the-subject technique, and mates opposing ideas by deftly juxtaposing pulp fantasy tropes: ""He fancied meat of dragon swans, as if the gods were always on his lips."" Poems like ""The Big Wingspread"" take clear aim at political demagoguery, while others, like ""Same Feet,"" are reminiscent of Jim Carroll, placing just the right amount of weirdness over the interior fires that burn in love-soaked relationships. Readers may wish for more variety in the meters, more definition in the subjects, and some relief from the relentless sometimes violent and male phantasmagoric imagery. But the precision of these sentences, accruing one by one, is unassailable and steadily compelling. Godfrey is never less than noble in the care he takes with his work. (Apr.) Forecast: Godfrey's first book was published in 1971, and his work has been one of the best-kept secrets in New York poetry since. This collection, inaugurating a fourth decade of work, will appeal to those interested in Surrealist, Beat or New York School work.