Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (Farrar, Strauss)

by August Kleinzahler

Publishers Weekly The witty, gritty poet and memoirist Kleinzahler (The Strange Hours Travellers Keep) has produced chiseled, sometimes curt and finely observed free verse for decades. Kleinzahler has lived in Montreal, San Francisco, Vancouver, Portugal and Berlin; his sketches of characters and places from at least four continents include affectionately cynical portraits of hoodlums, odes to the autumn failures of baseball teams and swiftly cinematic depictions of Tartar hordes in medieval Europe, "ripping the ears off hussars." Hackensack, N.J.; the foggy Bay Area with its foggier ex-hippies; and northern European lakes and mountains all receive their due in a poetry that aspires to the feel of bebop and the delight of travel writing, that never bores and rarely repeats itself. New poems add to, rather than swerve away from, Kleinzahler's strengths in close observation and all-over-the-map diction, from slang to technical terms. Overheard speech in "Above Gower Street," a poem about the loneliness of international travel, ranges from an answering machine's anodyne messages to an explicit sexual come-on; in "Vancouver," "the neon mermaid over the fish place/ looks best that way, in the rain." This ninth book of poems and first trade press new-and-selected should bring this master of free verse lines even more admirers. (Apr.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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Library Journal Kleinzahler's tone might be world-weary, his characters slightly frayed, but each poem in this retrospective collection is perfectly, breathtakingly balanced to deliver its own precise world-as it plunges, deceptively, into the deep heart of things. After decades, Kleinzahler got some deserved recognition with his NBCC win. (LJ 5/15/08) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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Library Journal Set firmly from the beginning in the Objectivist tradition, Kleinzahler's writing has assumed a density over time that approaches the philosophical meditations of Robert Duncan. But whereas Duncan wrote from the persona of Self, Kleinzahler focuses on a (sometimes imaginary) Other: "He wasn't English, of course/ The great man/ But that need not concern us, not here/ Rather, how that famous open plan of his/ Would abhor these little, closed-off rooms." After 70 pages of these unexpected and often abstract ruminations, it can be a relief to turn to some of the older poems. Astonishingly, Kleinzahler is capable of a concrete view influenced by what is not present: "There is a bureau and there is a wall/ and no one is beside you./ Beyond the curtains only silence/ broken now and again by a car or truck./ And if you are very still/ an occasional drip from the faucet/ Such are the room's acoustics./ It is difficult to place exactly where from." Featuring both old and newer work, this is a masterly, breakthrough collection and an important purchase for all libraries. [This is the final poetry review LJ will publish from Ratner, a contributor for over 30 years who died this past March. We'll miss her.--Ed.]--Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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