Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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This is a book concerned with texture: physical—the bumps on the surface of an egg’s
shell—emotional—those cringe-inducing recollections of childhood, its humid arousals and plotted
revenge—and linguistic—as invested in “a nice, rich noun. / Peach, or
maelstrom” as any other form of touch of visceral remembrance. This is a big small book, containing
multitudinous range: from the intimately individual to the mythic, from poems of rooted in family memories to
poem stitched from the dying words of certain famous dead. Nietzsche and the cicadas of childhood share space
here with Linnaeus and a poignantly wilted powder blue tuxedo at the back of a closet. The taste of clay and the
smell of mulch meet the sounds schoolboys learn to make with their armpits, the noises squids make as a school of
Tendrils of eros unfurl in unexpected places, like the “unlikely” arousal experienced by a poetic narrator as he—“a boy who slakes / himself” with sexual thoughts of men—contemplates the exposed ankle—“dangling like death, / the bone’s horrifying knob, the moth-wing / skin sloping naked...”—of a woman in a doctor’s waiting room. This blend of desire and death, the body as memento mori occurs throughout the book, marking some of the most powerful pieces here—“After My Grandmother’s Funeral,” “Blood in the Cum.” Sacred history is revisited as sexual, too, the angel who wrestled Jacob noting “the animal spit of ejaculate,” Icarus revealing a new “machine, deep in my head, / with toothed-wheels pressing a flimsy brain / into cog-shaped will, all powered by thoughts / of hairless moon men with skin like egg shells.” There are quite a lot of egg shells here. And one sugar cube, “soaked in his morning’s coffee,” which one man places on the narrator’s tongue, “(a shaking bone / clicking terribly, a scold / that scalds the soft, / peachy flesh of my mouth).”
These are meticulous and often overwhelming poems, as witnessed by “Aubade with Plum,” set by the sea, where two tangled bodies wake, “somehow grown together in the light like dune’s pillow weeds.” The scalpel of the vernacular—the one man stumbling up, uttering “a coughed ‘What the fuck’” before dressing in a “still-damp swimsuit, sounding like a zipper zipped down” and leaving his presumably unintentional, accidental lover, “a note—‘Gone to Mickey D’s for coffee, some grub.’” This is a heartbreaking scene, of longing and lust for bodies and beauty—the color of the sky, the waves, the call of gulls—and disappointment, a parting not of lovers from each other but of the intoxicating possibility of love from this bruise-tone world. This is a poem that sticks in your throat, and it is far from alone in this wrenching and pristinely crafted volume.
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