(Graywolf)In his narrative poems, David Rivard shows himself to be the master of strange juxtapositions. "The Secretary of Defense, a conductor / of souls, or a swimmer resuscitated by a wolfhound." "Seraphically shabby / hotel rooms, ruinous taxi rides, Puerto Rican transvestites..."
Or enlightenment --- or figuring it all out --- comes to you
like an accidental leak of private credit data
it comes to remind you that everyone is on record
and accounted for, & everyone admits it sooner or later...
Then there is dying, for "Those of us whose names will never be found in either / footnotes or headlines ..."
There are felicitous phrases: "a disappointment or happiness so pure / that it makes you stammer ..." A chance to read in "A place turned so green by grasses it almost feels / a sin to sit there reading a book with a black cover."
Finally, praise be,
We suffer too often as the shipwrecked do,
arguing almost every day with imaginary neighbors
on an island charted by blind map makers.
A great (or even a good) poet is one, who, as we get through the book, forces us to go back to the beginning, to run it through the brain-mill one more time. One does that with Rivard.
We find here all that we could expect of contemporary American poetry: a state gone wild and wrong; friends dying of drugs or alcohol; sudden moments of transcendence; wondering why they put us here at all; dealing with cars and strange people and ugly cities and glorious visions and occasional knock-out memories; those things we grew up with (for Rivard it was the nuns complaining about his "episodes of distraction;" he explains that he was just "avid for what could be learned best / from a cloud shadow frying on a hot rectory roof." And always the spiritual, "an equestrian team or the bodhisattva / stretched out by the river." Otherwise Elsewhere is fun, stretches out the unbelievable, laces it with knowing detail; above all showing a kindly sense of the silliness of 21st Century America. I find I like best the airiness of his juxtapositions, where the street, "its wisps of dieseled air aching / with the fragrance of lilacs."
One cannot help but like his slightly "buzzy clarity," including all the ampersands. As with Blake, he seems, often, to choose them for the visuals: the guys in the "taverns at neap tide,"
the leather jobbers & print-shop foremen bent
over Buds & frosted schooners of India Pale Ale & jiggers of Seagram's
they value clarity over irony, a slightly buzzed clarity, townie gossip over metropolitan chic.--- A. W. Allworthy