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May 25, 2003|Carol Muske-Dukes

Potential Stranger

Killarney Clary

Phoenix Poets Series /

University of Chicago Press:

72 pp., $14 paper

Killarney Clary's third book of poems, "Potential Stranger," is as enigmatic in tone and reference as its title. Yet despite its mysterious, hermetic shimmer, it is paradoxically clear, a stream of deep emotional rumination.

These charged prose poems gather weight and passionate emphasis as they accumulate. Beyond logic, the longings here simplify and answer metaphysical questions that the reader learns to ask as the images offer themselves for "deciphering":

Body of falling snow, of cinders, falling. Body of ashes. A dead man's reading glasses on a drain gate. A limp mantilla at the back of a drawer. What proof of an afterlife do we need? A vision burned into an old shirt.


Why Why Not

Martha Ronk

New California Poetry

Series / University of

California Press:

112 pp., $16.95 paper

In "Why Why Not," Martha Ronk also answers questions that rise with enigmatic urgency -- why? why not? -- and the stranger in each of us (as in Clary's poems) is courted passionately.

However, Ronk's new collection of poems (with a few exceptions) has not Clary's interest in the exploration of an emotional terrain. Rather she is concerned with language's much-theorized-upon "indeterminacy" as the manifestation of the "stranger" and the unfamiliar evocations of disjunctive language.

This wasn't even yours.

Keep it afloat:

Slimy, dreamy, green

Viscous is the mode of her-

meneutics I'm talking about

"Why Why Not" also re-visits (in a few poems) the classic "Hamlet" reverie, the binary dilemma of "why/why not," "yes/no," etc. -- and manages to bring it off.



Molly Peacock

W.W. Norton: 256 pp.,

$14.95 paper

"Cornucopia" by Molly Peacock is a big celebratory book of her new and selected poems, 1975 to 2002. Peacock's attention to form is famous, as is her often frank, unabashed choice of subject matter -- poems about drunken parents, sex, masturbation -- set hard by poems extolling more gentle intimacies.

Forgiveness is not an abstrac-

tion for

it needs a body to feel its relief.

Knees, shoulders, spine are

required to adore

the lightness of a burden

removed. Grief,

like a journey over water


slides its keel in the packed

sand reef.

Peacock's structured yet free-spirited style offers a jazzed yet common-sensical approach to expression, an overflowing cornucopia of poem-fruit.


Dig Safe

Stuart Dischell

Penguin: 66 pp., $16 paper

Stuart Dischell's title, "Dig Safe," refers to a road construction warning sign -- the poems unwind, undaunted, from this somewhat self-conscious "one-size-fits-all" metaphor. This is an immensely sane book, yet it is in touch with the absurd: jokey, credulous, a little cockeyed.

When people say they miss me,

I think how much I miss me too,

Me, the old me, the great me,

Lover of three women in one


Modest me, the best me ...

Some of these poems read like fables, some like dreamy elegies. This poet has discovered how to be at once endearing and startlingly honest, cultivating a desultory tone that belies its own reckless expression of the felt life.

In the towering stack of new poetry books on my study floor, it's also a pleasure to acknowledge two noteworthy volumes: Chris Abani's "Daphne's Lot" and Judith Taylor's "Selected Dreams From the Animal Kingdom." And more to come.

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