Stephen Dunn is justly celebrated as one of the strongest poets of his generation. Now in this rich gathering, he selects from his eight collections and includes sixteen new poems marked by the haunting "Snowmass Cycle". The heralded clarity and intelligence of Dunn's poems are in full evidence here, as is his ability to charm and evoke pathos. As the poet's earlier focus moves from - but never entirely forsakes - the mysteries of dailiness and the complications of domestic life, he more openly embraces the ...
Stephen Dunn is justly celebrated as one of the strongest poets of his generation. Now in this rich gathering, he selects from his eight collections and includes sixteen new poems marked by the haunting "Snowmass Cycle". The heralded clarity and intelligence of Dunn's poems are in full evidence here, as is his ability to charm and evoke pathos. As the poet's earlier focus moves from - but never entirely forsakes - the mysteries of dailiness and the complications of domestic life, he more openly embraces the philosophical and social concerns that have always been at the heart of his work. As ever, wit happily resides with seriousness, affirmation coexists with hardship. "I want to find the cool, precise language / for how passion gives rise to passion," Dunn says in one of the new poems. For two decades, such insistence has led him to a wise lucidity that places him among our consequential poets.
``I love abstractions, I love / to give them a nouny place to live, / a firm seat in the balcony / of ideas, while music plays.'' Dunn ( Landscape at the End of the Century ) doesn't lapse from the human in his affection for ideas or in his playful working with them; his poetry can read like a conversation held within the generous confines of an unusually abundant self. He and his ideas are good company for us. Part of the persuasion is accomplished with images: in ``Nova Scotia,'' jellyfish ``washed up / like small blue parachutes''; in ``The Snow Leopard'' a girl is ``half rockette'' and ``half American flag.'' But so much depends upon the billowing up and the resting of Dunn's thoughts, on their sheer movement. That's what forms and opens the poems, makes reading them seem like hobnobbing with someone who is both more observant and more precise than you could have been. We may hardly notice the skill of the movement, how fluent the monologue, but it marks us again and again: ``Last night Joan Sutherland was nuancing / the stratosphere on my fine-tuned tape deck, / and there was my dog Buster with a flea rash, / his head in his privates. Even for Buster /this was something like happiness.'' The collection includes work from eight past books and 16 new poems. (Apr.)
This substantial volume brings together two decades' worth of selections from Dunn's eight previous collections (most recently, Landscape at the End of the Century , LJ 3/15/91) and 16 new poems, the most moving of which is ``The Snowmass Cycle.'' In that eight-part work, originally published in Poetry , the poet muses on the task he's set for himself and brilliantly managed, over the years, to fulfill: ``Give me a new mouth and I'll be/ a guardian against forgetfulness . . . I want to find the cool, precise language/ for how passion gives rise to passion.'' Recommended for most collections.-- David Sowd, Formerly with Stark Cty. District Lib., Canton, Ohio
This Dunn in the hand is worth eight previous volumes on the shelf, plus a selection of 16 bracing new works. We can follow in Dunn's mindsteps, from the certainties and rowdiness of his youth to the frustration and bemusement of his middle years. In his early poems, Dunn concentrates on balance--the constant play of dark and light, down and up, distress and pleasure--and on seeking patterns, rhythm, and reassurance. As time circles round, Dunn becomes more aware of the confluence of events and emotions, the contingency of life, of "motion, the great purifier." He comes to recognize the tedium of getting what you want, the persistent loneliness in the midst of family and friends, and the naturalness of violence. But he never loses his edge, his glint. Ever veracious, Dunn exposes the muddled assumptions behind the romanticization of insanity, the celebration of ambiguity, or the rejection of appearances. Dunn may be incorrect, but he is always right, and always ravishingly articulate.