The Strange Hours Travelers Keep

The Strange Hours Travelers Keep

by August Kleinzahler

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August Kleinzahler's new poems stretch and go places he has never gone before: They have his signature high color and rhythmic jump, but they take on a breadth of voice and achieve registers that his earlier work only hinted at. Ranging from Las Vegas and Mayfair to contemporary Berlin, these poems touch down at will in tableaux where Liberace unceremoniously


August Kleinzahler's new poems stretch and go places he has never gone before: They have his signature high color and rhythmic jump, but they take on a breadth of voice and achieve registers that his earlier work only hinted at. Ranging from Las Vegas and Mayfair to contemporary Berlin, these poems touch down at will in tableaux where Liberace unceremoniously meets with St. Kevin and Gustav Mahler with Ava Gardner. This is the strongest collection to date from a poet "equally at home anywhere between the jets and the steppes" (Alexsandar Hemon, Poetry).

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A wonder wall of impossibly strange headlines, found poetry . . . A menacing, nasty iambic fest which must be heard a viva voce, in the poet's broad New Jersey vowels and clipped diction . . . Thank the muses [for] August Kleinzahler.” —Peter Spagnuolo, The Brooklyn Rail
Publishers Weekly
In Kleinzahler's first since his 2000 selected, Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club, brain surgery, an "old poet, dying," fighter planes, Andres Segovia and "a computer-generated Weimaraner" stand among the grand array of metaphors, objects and offhand stories that make this volume his most coherent and most thoroughly enjoyable to date. The title promises poems set all over the world; the New Jersey-bred poet obliges with landscape poems set in Germany, Texas, New England and "the snowy passes of the Carpathians," where the poet follows a Mongol horde. Kleinzahler is also a jazz critic; in the ambitious five-part "A History of Western Music" he shows himself at home with classical works but fascinated by popular performers from Liberace to June and the Exit Wounds. A series of poems adapted from Horace proves less complicated but almost compulsively quotable: one advises against "daydreaming" ambitions, concluding: "The weather here stinks, and neither of these girls is for you." Kleinzahler can leap, within a few lines, from science-speak ("collateral sulcus") to tough-guy talk ("Murph lent me his putty knife"); that code-switching range, along with his set of personae, add up to poem after poem nobody else could have written, despite their similarity to each other. Readers attracted to Kleinzahler's distant Beat forebears should appreciate the ambling free verse gleaned from urban strolls, while those who seek more ambitious work will find it in his meditations on music and art: "even the painter," he concludes, "must be destroyed/ in order that we may become the paint." (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This 11th collection from Kleinzahler (Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow) characteristically keeps readers off balance through an unstable mix of deadpan irony, ambiguous intent, and eclectic subject matter. Just as "A Beautiful Mind" aspires to be horrifically offhand as it toys with the complex neural wiring of the human brain ("Mercy, Miss Percy, it's worse than the back of your TV"), a series of meditations on "The History of Western Music" reveals a scholar's comfort with arcane detail. Though Kleinzahler strives to maintain a state of unpredictability and invention throughout, he sometimes short-circuits himself, as in "The Single Gentleman's Chow Mein," which devotes three meandering stanzas to ant poison, four to the consideration of leftover Chinese food, and a last line that some would find a rather tasteless-if not offensive-joke. But perhaps taste is the point. One might find Kleinzahler's oblique wit to be knowing and incisive, or self-possessed and snide. At his best, as in the hard-edged yet strangely moving elegy, "The Old Poet, Dying," the contradictory impulses mesh perfectly, vindicating the poet's risky approach.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.08(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.35(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Strange Hours Travelers Keep

The markets never rest
Always they are somewhere in agitation
Pork bellies, titanium, winter wheat
Electromagnetic ether peppered with photons
Treasure spewing from Unisys A-15 J mainframes
Across the firmament
Soundlessly among the thunderheads and passenger jets
As they make their nightlong journeys
Across the oceans and steppes

Nebulae, incandescent frog spawn of information
Trembling in the claw of Scorpio
Not an instant, then shooting away
Like an enormous cloud of starlings

Garbage scows move slowly down the estuary
The lights of the airport pulse in morning darkness
Food trucks, propane, tortured hearts
The reticent epistemologist parks
Gets out, checks the curb, reparks
Thunder of jets
Peristalsis of great capitals

How pretty in her tartan scarf
Her ruminative frown
Ambiguity and Reason
Locked in a slow, ferocious tango
Of if not, why not

The Old Poet, Dying

He looks eerily young,
what's left of him,
purged, somehow, back into boyhood.
It is difficult not to watch
the movie on TV at the foot of his bed,
40" color screen,
a jailhouse dolly psychodrama:
truncheons and dirty shower scenes.
I recognize one of the actresses, now a famous lesbian,
clearly an early B-movie role.
The black nurse says "Oh dear"
during the beatings.
-- TV in this town is crap, he says.
His voice is very faint.
He leans toward me,
sliding further and further,
until the nurse has to straighten him out,
scolding him gently.
He reaches out for my hand.
The sudden intimacy rattles me.
He is telling a story.

Two, actually,
and at some point they blend together.
There are rivers and trains,
Oxford and a town near Hamburg.
Also, the night train to Milan
and a lovely Italian breakfast.
The river in Oxford --
he can't remember the name;
but the birds and fritillaria in bloom . . .
He remembers the purple flowers
and a plate of gingerbread cookies
set out at one of the colleges.
He gasps to remember those cookies.
How surprised he must have been
by the largesse,
and hungry, too.
-- He's drifting in and out:
I can hear the nurse
on the phone from the other room.
He has been remembering Europe for me.
Exhausted, he lies quiet for a time.
-- There's nothing better than a good pee,
he says and begins to fade.
He seems very close to death.
Perhaps in a moment, perhaps a week.
Then awakes.
Every patch of story, no matter how fuddled,
resolves into a drollery.

He will perish, I imagine,
en route to a drollery.

Although his poems,
little kinetic snapshots of trees and light,
so denuded of personality
and delicately made
that irony of any sort
would stand out
like a pile of steaming cow flop
on a parquet floor.
We are in a great metropolis
that rises heroically from the American prairie:
a baronial home,
the finest of neighborhoods,
its broad streets nearly empty
on a Saturday afternoon,
here and there a redbud in bloom.
Even in health,
a man so modest and soft-spoken
as to be invisible
among others, in a room of almost any size.
It was, I think, a kind of hardship.
-- Have you met what's-his-name yet?
he asks.

You know who I mean,
the big shot.

-- Yes, I tell him, I have.

-- You know that poem of his?
Everyone knows that poem
where he's sitting indoors by the fire
and it's snowing outside
and he suddenly feels a snowflake
on his wrist?

He pauses and begins to nod off.
I remember now the name of the river
he was after, the Cherwell,
with its naked dons, The Parson's Pleasure.
There's a fiercesome catfight
on the TV, with blondie catching hell
from the chicana.
He comes round again and turns to me,
leaning close,

-- Well, of course, he says,

taking my hand,
his eyes narrowing with malice and delight:
-- That's not going to be just any old snowflake,
now, is it?

Copyright © 2003 August Kleinzahler

Meet the Author

August Kleinzahler is the author of ten books of poems, including Green Sees Things in Waves and Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club. He lives in San Francisco.

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