Here we'll look at two important books of poetry that share the unlikely status of being unavailable from an American publisher. Firstly, Douglas Crase's The Revisionist is a truly exceptional collection of poems. When published by Little, Brown in 1981, the book received astounding acclaim—quotes on the back cover are from James Merrill, John Hollander, and John Ashbery. More than this even, Crase was named a MacArthur Fellow in recognition of his achievement. The book interfuses many elements, including a pastoral attunement to the natural world, a unique coloring that recalls a sense of early America, powerful apocalyptic tones, and a finely balanced voice that is both philosophical and lyrical.
Though a poetry publisher should certainly reissue The Revisionist, and I hope one will, even if this weren't to happen anytime soon, the strength of the work will ensure that it reaches readers, through whatever means people will be reading in the future. Among so much richness, including "Heron Weather" and "There is No Real Peace in the World," it could be rather hard to choose. For me, though, the following opening section of the title poem fits comfortably beside the strongest lyrical voices of the twentieth (or twenty-first) century.
From "The Revisionist":
If I could raise rivers, I'd raise them
Across the mantle of our past: old headwaters
Stolen, oxbows high and dry while new ones form,
A sediment of history rearranged. If I could unlock
The lakes, I'd spill their volume over the till
I know you cultivate: full accumulations swept away,
The habit of prairies turned to mud. If I had glaciers,
I'd carve at the stony cliffs of your belief:
Logical mountains lowered notch by notch, erratics
Dropped for you to stumble on. Earthquakes, and I'd
Seize your experience at its weakest edge: leveled
Along a fault of memories. Sunspots, I'd cloud
Your common sense; tides, and I'd drown its outlines
With a weight of water they could never bear.
If I had hurricanes, I'd worry your beaches
Into ambiguity: barrier islands to collect them
In one spot and in another the sudden gut
That sucks them loose to revolve in dispersion with
The waves. If I had frost, I'd shatter the backbone
Of your thought: an avalanche of gravel, a storm
Of dust. And if I could free volcanoes, I'd tap
The native energies you've never seen: counties
Of liquid rock to cool in summits you'd have to
Reckon from. If I could unroll a winter of time
When these were done, I'd lay around your feet
In endless fields where you could enter and belong,
A place returning and a place to turn to whole.
Next is Landlocked by Mark Ford. Ford is a British poet whose work, uncommon for poets in that country, is deeply informed by Ashbery. As though to go one further and then some, he is indeed an Ashbery scholar; that he is the editor of the Library of America's Collected Poems is only the most apparent example.
Four of Ford's poems appeared in The Paris Review in Fall 2010 (which was Lorin Stein's inaugural issue, and is to his credit). And yet that this poet's first, and to me his finest, collection has never been published in America seems surprising.
There is a noteworthy poetic voice that winds through Landlocked. (Indicative of Ford's refreshing outlook is that he named his second book, Soft Sift, after a poem in his first—so Landlocked has two title poems, sort of.) The most well-known poem from the book is "A Swimming-Pool Full of Peanuts," but this humorous imagining of said absurdist situation is not truly indicative of the strongest strains to be found here. Based on his two collections so far, it will be very interesting to follow this poet's career. Some portion of what is unique in the work may stem from Ford's bringing a British inflection to a mode we are unused to hearing it in—this can be found, for example, in the conclusion to "Invisible Assets:"
Meanwhile, the market for landscapes has never
been firmer. This view, for instance, includes
seven counties, and a bull charging around in its paddock.
The following is an excerpt from the title poem (which notes earlier on that Solomon is the name of a spaniel).
Such awful doubts assailed her in the prairie states—
For days she chewed her favorite gum on the hard shoulder
And whispered her difficult secrets to the wheat
Where game Solomon yelped, and, true to form,
The unmiraculous wheat only rustled through its rosary once more.
She sent me a postcard from somewhere
In Missouri, and then again from Amarillo,
Texas. She said she thought she'd make it
All the way to sunshine California, but she said
She couldn't promise she'd like it when she did
Or even that she'd get all the way over to the ocean there,
Which didn't surprise me or disappoint me one little bit,
And I sent one back to an address in Vegas saying,
Well why should you, unless of course you want to?
Rob Crawford is the author of Brilliant Families, forthcoming from Counterpoint Press. An editor at Overlook Press, he attended Phillips Academy Andover and Yale University. His writing has appeared in Golden Handcuffs Review and Publishers Weekly, and he lives in Brooklyn. @rcrawford7