Friday, June 06, 2008

From Alan Shapiro's "Old War"

I am reading Alan Shapiro's Old War (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). I met Shapiro at Bread Loaf in the summer of 2002, and very much liked him. That was just before this book begins, according to its publisher, who writes, "In October 2002, at the age of fifty, Alan Shapiro collapsed while playing basketball. A few months later, on the eve of America's invasion of Iraq, he remarried... The poems in Old War, Shapiro's ninth and most innovative collection, were written under the double aspect of love and fear, of hope that comes with any fresh start and the sense that history will eventually undo or destroy whatever we struggle to make."

Old War is a powerful collection of poems, a worthy successor (and companion) to Shapiro's Tantalus in Love (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). I am particularly taken with how Shapiro varies his lineation throughout this book; at times working with a longer line, at other times shattering the line to poignant effect as he considers love, loss, violence and human frailty.

Here's a poem from Shapiro's Old War in which that broken lineation is very much at work:

after Sappho

As an apple hangs

in a fragment of

a sentence in

an ancient poem

in the book

you've made me

turn face down

on the bedside table,

your blouse now half

unbuttoned as

the apple reddens

in the broken

simile the second

half of which

was lost how many

centuries ago;

as the apple shines

more brightly for the lost

lines in the top-

most branches, missed

by the pickers, or

too high for them

to reach,


unfalling, trembling

forever on

the trembling branch

beyond the out-

stretched fingers

while you shiver

slightly as the blouse

falls, first this sleeve,

then the other,

from your shoulders.


Blogger Brian Campbell said...

Quite an interesting poem. Thanks for sharing it. One of the few poems I've read that refers to sentences and similes directly that is not overly bookish. (Well, he put the book down for good reason!)

1:06 AM  

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