Lowly

Alan Felsenthal. Ugly Duckling, $15 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-937027-87-2
Felsenthal, cofounder of the press the Song Cave, prophetically conjures lyrical, abstract portraits of myriad subjects, both animate and inanimate, in his debut collection. He adopts a rhythmic stream-of-consciousness approach in composing his pseudoallegories, visions, and fictionalized takes on religious texts. Felsenthal’s most successful poems find him writing about that which is irreversible: death (“A lawn is lit by souls asleep,/ in tandem or alone, or hiding in a hive/ averse to soil, a crypt”) and indelible sorrow (“I touch my breastplate—// there died the lamb I was. A wraith of twilight he grazes/ on gloom.”). The poems are largely metaphysical; at times this can lead the writing to feel stiff or heavy-handed, like a gospel that wants to serve as an emotional guidebook. Sonically, the poems inhabit a steady—if somewhat narrow—register that can feel hypnotic and disorienting despite its musical pleasantness. There is even some acknowledgement of this tendency: “Once this same landscape was feral/ then it became subdued/ and in humans this could not but/ be sad.” Felsenthal evokes deep feeling, but it occurs in fits and starts. Readers who gravitate towards a poetics of transcendence and quietude will appreciate Felsenthal’s verse and his reverence for mystery. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/17/2017
Release date: 05/01/2017
Genre: Fiction
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