Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Poet

From a review of Some Mountains Removed in the May 24th Chicago Tribune:

Daniel Bouchard's second book, "Some Mountains Removed," meditates on questions of social responsibility in a larger world. Thoughtful, and sometimes full of rage, Bouchard is interested in cognitive dissonance, the way in which the America we inhabit feels strenuously alive and yet seems built on illusions. Bouchard himself admits, "I have the poet's dual instinct to say/on the one hand it doesn't matter and/the other to set everyone straight." He's at his best when he incorporates frustrated fatigue and rant into his richly descriptive poems of landscape and place. The well-hewn and prescient "Actors House at Wellfleet," a gentle satire of the crumbling site of an earlier version of the entertainment industry (and its patrons, the very rich) deserves comparison to Robert Lowell's meditation on the losses of history, "For the Union Dead."

When Bouchard isn't busy criticizing consumerism he's drawn to nature. As he himself points out, it still seems a place of refuge, where a friend's impeccable directions can find you a few moments of relief from culture, but Bouchard isn't interested in pleasure and doesn't let himself linger in sensuousness because, quite frankly, he doesn't really think the current state of culture allows us to feel it. What he does appear to feel is an excess of frustration, and in "Idle Music Is the Devil's Band" he only barely stops short of claiming that whether or not to hate people in what he calls "Suburban Ubiquitous Vehicles" is the greatest moral problem of his generation. This seems a bit hyperbolic, even for our nation of excess. Bouchard seems to risk more--and earn his audience--when his satires collapse into an uneasy sincerity, as at the end of "Knives of the Poets":

I can't commit

My heart to where I thought once

It would be, always open, honest, free

From fears, not braced by

Slim, trivial regrets or

A fool's anxiety about the future.

Few young voices in American poetry are as capable of as many moody variations.

Hmmmm: "Thoughtful, and sometimes full of rage..." That indeed was The Poet at Dirty Franks in the early '90s! I think the reviewer is wrong to note "an excess of frustration" in these poems, particularly when she notes we live in "a nation of excess," and most particularly after she writes that he's "at his best when he incorporates frustrated fatigue and rant...," but for the most part I'm tickled pink to see this review in a major daily. I've had his book on my nightstand for months, and wrestle it often.