Alex Grant, The White Book (Main Street Rag, 2008. 37 pages. $10.00) and
Chains & Mirrors (North Carolina Writers' Network, winner of the Randall
Jarrell/Harperprints Poetry Contest, 2006 and The Oscar Arnold Young Award
(Best NC Poetry Collection, 2007).
"Neruda's Suicide Note" typifies the poetry of Alex Grant. His themes are clever
and inventive and his lines are rich with sound-play and imagery. Some poems
border on language poetry, but never lose the intellectual purpose of the work.
From "Transubstantiation," ". . . connecting through / this stringy sheen of albumen,/
the laminal nimbus, the haloed / husk of shell where movement / and sound take on importance . . ."
It is a poetry of the mind, ear and eye, of humor and language and intellect.
"What binds language is what clumps the earth," he writes in "Palimpsest,"
which reflects his predominant preference for the concrete, even when the themes
are spiritual and philosophical.
My favorite poem in Chains and Mirrors is "Dreaming In Gethsemane," a
gorgeous whimsy of Jesus dreaming about saving himself by coming to the New
World. In Cuba or El Salvador, he rests and recovers, recapturing peace, youth,
and energy. He does small magic, making tongues wag and disturbing the village
life. But without that brutal death, "his memory will fade and mingle with the dust."
It is a poem of magical realism, but it's also where the best elements of Grant's
work come together: his play with sound and image and idea.
The images are sharp. Those in "The Long, Slow Drop" are reminiscent of James
Wright's artful little poem "Twilights:" "The heart's iambic thud, / Like steps on
maple floors. / Four strands of hair / in a lover's mouth."
Some of the poems are funny. For example, "Beginning Poet Critique," which plays
with the common pitfalls and pratfalls we experience as poets and editors.
We can laugh at ourselves as we work on this art form that can sometimes seem
too good for us. "Poetry Midterm," and "Poetry Final" are two similar poems that I
like, being whimsical explorations of the craft especially dear to poetry educators.
From "Poetry Midterm: " / Establish a credible connection between / the
following: the curve of a woman's breast, / a 1957 Chevrolet Impala,
monotheism. Result / must be enjoyable to the average reader, / and be small
enough to hold in one hand." Both poems perfectly humorously exploit the sort of
impossible tasks that poets, in their hubris, must attempt.
Causes Alex Grant Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center