Sixty poems drawn from Kleinzahler’s early books, all of which are now out of print. In his introduction, Kleinzahler declares that he knew from his teens that he would be a poet, and the apprentice work that makes up much of this collection clearly came from someone who was a more astute than usual reader of contemporary verse. There are two sections (labeled “East” and “West”), but there is no indication of the chronology of the poems in either grouping; given that Kleinzahler now lives in the Bay Area, it would appear that the eastern poems came first, but within each part of the book there is a sense of a progression from gifted tyro to real master. The problem is that the development seems to run parallel, with weak efforts at the outset of both halves of the book. Kleinzahler’s verse reveals from the outset many of the same mannerisms that can be found in his most recent work: a fondness for clever (or over-clever) anachronisms, a weakness for arch non sequiturs, and—at its best—a knack for making use of abrupt shifts in tone that presage a movement towards darkness and poignancy (which can be quite effective when it doesn’t descend into sentimentality).
For someone who is often sold as some sort of rock-music, post-beat bard, Kleinzahler employs language that is surprisingly mature and literary, even in these early works, but this collection will be of interest mostly to those who are already his fans.