Birds of the Airby David Yezzi
Like Robert Frost’s North of Boston, David Yezzi’s Birds of the Air intersperses charged lyrics with longer dramatic narratives. His monologues explore the frenetic pressures of urban life, as a number of memorable characters take stage: the guy who is hired to clear out a dying man’s apartment; the actor stuck in an inadvertently hilarious production of Macbeth and his estranged girlfriend's tragic end; and the short-order cook who elevates his work to an art form. Like the birds of the air described by St. Matthew, these threadbare denizens of the modern city subsist on the few scraps that fall to them.
Starred Review-Sad and serious, attentive to meter and balance yet no slave to form, the dramatic monologues, rough laments, strict rhymes and accomplished syllabics in this third volume from Yezzi (Azores) go far beyond expectations: it should impress not just those who follow “formal” poetry generally, but almost anyone who has an abiding love for the poetry of Robert Frost. Executive editor of the New Criterion, Yezzi draws carefully on the non- and pre-modernist past: what he adds is, sometimes, a caustic sadness peculiar to his generation, a sense of nothing left, as in a poem on an old photograph: “The scribble across/ the back, your name—/ if more was meant,/ it never came.” Failed romance, disconsolate Eros, provides a ground note for a volume that also observes urban privilege and the urban poor, though it keeps coming back to the poet’s own Larkinesque, or perhaps Frostian, failures: “We are as useless as an open lock,/ more insubstantial than a drinking song.” Yet Yezzi’s greatest ambition arrives instead in dramatic and narrative verse, especially in the four-part, two-voice, 16-page “Tomorrow & Tomorrow,” in which a 20-something writer and actor loses his girlfriend while touring Europe in Macbeth: “Of course, there’s things that won’t let you forget/ how what you wanted is what hurt you most,/ how it was happiness itself betrayed you.”—Publishers Weekly
Vivid language amplified by ass-kicking sonic effects. Also, an exceptionally versatile range: lyric, dramatic, discursive, gnomic, dense, lucid. Moving and melodic poems, but with a satisfying acid edge.—Joshua Mehigan, Poetry Magazine
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Meet the Author
DAVID YEZZI’S books of poems include The Hidden Model (2003); Azores (2008), a Slate magazine best book of the year; and Birds of the Air, forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry (2006, 2012), The Paris Review Book, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Poetry Speaks Who I Am, Bright Wings, and elsewhere. He is editor of The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets (foreword by J. D. McClatchy) and executive editor of The New Criterion. He lives in New York City.
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