The prodigiously imaginative mind and penetrating wit of David R. Slavitt are on full display in his newest collection of poetry that is perhaps his most engaging to date. The title poem begins by fooling around—"With three names like that, it sounds as though his mother is calling him and she's really angry"—but then builds into a shrewd, thoughtful account of the life of the ninth U.S. president. A second long poem offers a fresh and very amusing appraisal of the practice of buying, writing, and sending souvenir postcards. In between this pair, there are shorter pieces impressive in their range and tone and theme (be sure to read "Poem without Even One Word") that dazzle in an already glittering body of work.
Slavitt's poems can be playful, even silly, and then astonishingly convert levity into earnest urgency. Dark lines glint with the light of intelligence and mirth, even as artful puns and jokes reveal a rueful aspect. The poet gets older but his work is as graceful as ever, the lovable little boy signaling from inside the sometimes-cranky septuagenarian.
Nothing has changed: the familiar street remains what it was, a welter of random traffic, until you position yourself at the corner beneath a sign
and stare—how can you not?—the two or three blocks of your field of vision to try to make out the white roof of the bus that ought any minute to be
appearing in the middle distance. That mere looking imposes an order. The cars, the trucks, the taxis are all not-bus, and the bus you want,
withholding itself, teasing, defying, looms in its invisibility larger than buses should. So it can be with dawn, or the mailman, the waiter,
or, for that matter, the heaven we dream of, waiting, with its warmth and lights, bearing down through the distance and time it and your yearning shape and almost tame.
David R. Slavitt has published more than one hundred books, including The Seven Deadly Sins and Other Poems, Change of Address, and William Henry Harrison and Other Poems. Born in White Plains, New York, and educated at Andover, Yale, and Columbia, Slavitt has worked at Newsweek and has taught at Temple University, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Bennington College.
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