cover image The Art of Attention: A Poet’s Eye

The Art of Attention: A Poet’s Eye

Donald Revell, . . Graywolf, $12 (172pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-474-9

This short and wonderful second book of prose from poet Revell (A Thief of Strings ) begins as an essay on luminous mystical vision and ends as a poetic autobiography, explaining how the poet got from the bitter, involuted verse of his first books to his pellucid, delighted and delightful recent work. In between, Revell argues that poets should translate, with examples from Ezra Pound and Revell’s own engagement with Guillaume Apollinaire; he also argues that familiar ideas about imagination, originality, craft and revision have the true poetic process exactly backwards. True poetry, for Revell as for his frequent model Thoreau, flows from openness to whatever awaits us outside the self. That openness is for Revell finally religious (in his case, Christian): “it is simply natural,” he maintains, “that plain attention is a piety and that the unaggressive articulation of attention in poems may be a form of prayer, an instance of worship.” This compact book (part of Graywolf’s new Art Of series on the craft of writing) seems designed in part for poetry workshops, but Revell’s unusual take makes this as much a warmhearted essay on metaphysics as a guidebook, which is likely to make any poetry lover stop and pay attention. (Aug.)