cover image ARCADY


Donald Revell, . . Wesleyan Univ., $26 (64pp) ISBN 978-0-8195-6474-0

This latest and strongest volume from the increasingly influential Revell (There Are Three) began, as his preface explains, with the death of his sister. Its cryptic, stark, incantatory short-lined sonnets and sonnet-sized stanzaic lyrics take in pre-Socratic philosophers, hymns, nursery rhymes, TV cartoons ("tooms") and the literary ancestry of pastoral genres while remaining close to Revell's own loss. Revell juxtaposes the grief he continues to feel with Virgilian shepherds and journeys, with other deaths (those of Allen Ginsberg, the puppeteer Shari Lewis), even with orchestration: "The sympathy of friends is pleasant VIOLINS/ But it makes no difference anymore TROMBONES." His clipped stanzas can sound like stage directions, or like notes for still-unwritten poems. At the same time they can grab the ear and hold on—"It dies away/ Very quickly/ My father's/ Harp struck." "Shall We be there/ For keeps for/ Us," he asks in "The Little River Wants to Kee," whose quizzical title implies both "keen" and "keep." Acknowledged influences include Thoreau and Poussin (whose best-known painting includes the motto "Et in Arcadia Ego"); readers may also recall the terse, mystical lines of Michael Palmer or the typographical experiments of Apollinaire, the French modernist whom Revell (who teaches at the University of Utah) has translated. Revell's previous work has struck some readers as inspiringly strange, while seeming to others arid or unmusical. In his new poems, though, each verbal venture emerges from, and returns to, events in the soul: "After gods go/ Over the moon/ I'll catch you." (Mar.)