cover image OF THEE I SING


Timothy Liu, . . Univ. of Georgia, $16.95 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-8203-2600-9

Liu's attractive fifth book departs from his previous work in its denser style, but not in its themes: intense devotion to gay male desire collides with painful self-scrutiny, political protest and snapshots of far-flung America, from New Jersey (where the poet teaches and lives) to the "red states" and their evangelical demands. Liu tackles these subjects in tough, sometimes fragmentary, free verse, starting with a terse, thoughtful "Ars Poetica": "All the world day-trading suicide shares.... The craft could be taught but not the art." A three-time Lambda Award nominee, Liu (Say Goodnight ) still aims to shock ("Let me be your rotisserie Christ"), but those shocks are here aggregated toward a greater cause, as his poetry presses for understandings based on the body ("Flesh knows no future/ but itself, each of us mining a secret dream") and celebrates gay America from backseat to shining sea. One series links the end of a relationship to the expulsion from Eden, "Cruel speech soiling the nuptial bed"; other poems meld a post-Miltonic high style to down-and-dirty reportage, mixing choppy and verbally challenging poems with more fluid, narrative affairs. In Liu's hyperreal nation of passion and distress, "Innocence// means nothing to us now"; decadents and hayseeds join hands and cry out, while "sons who had once studied law// at their father's behest" are "sworn into a cult of moonlit chinoiserie." (Mar.)