cover image Alpha Donut

Alpha Donut

Matvei Yankelevich. United Artists (SPD, dist.), $16 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-935992-29-8

The most unsparing poets who live and write in New York absorb the city into their work, and Yankelevich stands in this tradition of the fast-talking, wry, and welcoming metropolitan poet. Even when he is harkening back to his Russian heritage, recalling “[Osip Mandelstam’s]/ poem about exclamation points/ of rifles,” Yankelevich speaks and sees the world with the fragmented eye of a New Yorker, where “a street/ is a country unto itself” and he can always “hear the straining of the accordion/ in the last phrases of ‘Port Arthur.’ ” Peppered with tiny, untitled missives that read like melancholy jottings on scrap paper (“stay away from me/ bar dog/ I’m trouble”), Yankelevich’s is the work of a poet as much in love with language and conversation as he is with the world. He follows his nerve at every turn, offering up a list of choice Melvillean beers on one page (“Bartleby the Pilsener/ Billy Budweiser/ Benito Cervesa”) and then misquoting Xerxes and moving into an exhausted, scrooged-out rant on the shortcomings of the New Yorkers around him on the next. Though his unsparing generosity might not always be pretty, it’s certainly as honest as they come in New York. (June)