cover image Tenderness


Joyce Carol Oates. Ontario Review Press, $18.95 (91pp) ISBN 978-0-86538-085-1

This is Oates's eighth volume of poetry, yet her voice still lacks the readily identifiable features that make her one of America's most distinguished novelists. Her narrative poems are particularly prosaic, posing the question as to why Oates didn't write such poems as stories. Many of the best pieces recall the adolescent girl of the 1950s, mixing concrete memories--a family car ride (""Flirtation, July 1953""), the edgy teen-aged boy in ""Sexy,"" the boy with his car, crayons--with less specific reflections on a sleepwalking child or impressions of the funeral of an infant cousin. The first two sections reflect and expand the volume's title, with an ironic hint of violence that pops up, for example, when a grandfather dangles the toddler over an open well. As autobiography recedes, so do craft and subject. Violence is more predominant: ""He slammed me then I slammed him./ To turn the other cheek was great."" There are some gems here, principally in the first two sections; other poems are banal.(Oct.)