Here is an exiled poet in an English seaside asylum, a winter night spent in the spooky penthouse suite of Ceausescu's vanished daughter, and a scientist trying to calculate the heart's square root.
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Americans should know that Bloodaxe is the dominant force in serious British poetry. So Bloodaxe Book¿s publication of Nick Drake¿s first major collection, The Man in the White Suit, can give us yanks a sense of what¿s out there in British verse now. It¿s hard to resist comparisons between Drake¿s poems and our American oeuvre, so why resist? His poems don¿t follow the typical American improvisational free-verse or formal free-verse styles. He takes the latter and ups the formal stakes, going for the rhyme and apparent, though seldom regulated meter, and using alliteration and assonance with confidence. His stanzas make sense as units, and the line breaks are free from enjambment and abruption. Stylistically like Ransom and Penn Warren, a Fugitive gentile elegance is in these poems. But the themes in this book seldom find their home in English settings. They take place in Continental Europe: a conflation of pop culture iconography with Elvis and Dracula on a ¿Mystery Train¿ to Transylvania, and a haunting musing on power¿s closest victim¿s in ¿Ceausescu¿s Daughter¿s Bedroom¿. These aren¿t the Left Bank and Rome poems of American poetry chic. These are poems of a real Europe, ¿Europe¿s concrete jigsaw, time- and war-zones.¿ And Jigsaw puzzle is what we have in this book, with no customary delineations of parts or sections. Each poem, is set in a different place and offered by a different speaker¿again in contrast to the contemporary American desire for thematic unity as seen in McCombs Ultima Thule and Jordan¿s Carolina Ghost Woods, two finalists for the Times Book Critics¿ Circle prize. Each poem in The Man in the White Suit is a piece of an elusive bigger something, hard at first to see when the box is just opened and spilled across our imagination¿s table. But if we remember the picture on the cover, the poet promises we¿ll see it soon enough. And most will.