The New York Sun ran my review of Alan Shapiro's Old War
this morning. At first I was slightly resistant to the poet's thrifty methodology: he likes to recycle certain words in each poem, in the manner of such late Randall Jarrell pieces as "Well Water" or "Next Day." But I was won over. I began this way:
If you're lucky, the most fundamental lesson of life--the fact that we live on borrowed time, with the final foreclosure never more than a breath away--arrives in installments. Our loved ones disappear at a dignified pace, in single file. Each shock prepares us for the next. In this sense, the poet Alan Shapiro has been profoundly unlucky. During the late 1990s, he lost both his sister and brother to cancer. Meanwhile, he was beset by the scarcely more bearable trials of middle age: ailing parents, a crumbling marriage.
The poet's response, initially, was a book of essays about his sister's death, Vigil (1997). Yet he soon returned to verse with Song and Dance (2002), and in an interview that same year, he explained why: "I needed poetry then. I didn't need prose. I needed song. I needed art at its most elevated--as elevated as I could make it, anyway." The poems in that collection, which represented a quantum leap forward for Mr. Shapiro, both memorialized his brother and acknowledged just how meager the consolations of art could be. Poetry didn't kill the pain, and it didn't fill the void left by his brother's death. It simply allowed the poet to (in John Berryman's phrase) bear and be. No wonder he needed it so badly.
You can read the rest here
. Also, check out David Ulin's review
in the Los Angeles Times, which dwells briefly on the black comedy in Old War
: "There is humor here, in an oddly fatalistic way, but even more there is acceptance, release almost, a kind of willful recognition of our ephemerality."