cover image Different Hours: Poems

Different Hours: Poems

Stephen Dunn. W. W. Norton & Company, $22 (121pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04986-2

This sensitive 11th book from Dunn (Loosestrife) largely sticks to familiar territory: in one central poem, a ""master"" advises the speaker to ""Use what's lying around the house./ Make it simple and sad."" Dunn follows that advice unwaveringly: his short lyrics in conversational language address the difficulties and small victories of everyday life--fears on turning 60, marital quarrels, suburban weather, ""the commonplace and its contingencies."" Like Gerald Stern and Philip Booth, Dunn strives to describe the travails of ordinary people in language not only simplified but generalized: a friend's divorce leads the speaker to say ""no one can know what goes on/ in the pale trappings of bedrooms,"" while scary headlines and advancing age prompt the remark that ""it's tempting to believe/ we lived in simpler times."" Poems about places offer few surprises: Italy yields ""the chosen gloomy beauty of a tourist town,"" and a series of poems about Dunn's native South Jersey produce phrases almost as stale. Many poems try so hard for their transparency that they become predictable, so hard to be representative that their speakers seem too normal to be true, even the usually multi-valent Odysseus, who here ""sailed through storm and wild sea/ as if his beloved were all that ever mattered."" Such mythical alter egos, when they appear, disappear into the dominant mode here, that of a quiet family man who wants to be kind and to marvel at the ordinary, ""amazed/ that the paper has been delivered."" Fans will pick up this book to get news of his latest doings, but despite its accessibility, it will draw few new subscribers. (Nov.)