Often illuminating and occasionally impenetrable.

A prizewinning poet confronts the challenges of creative nonfiction and the struggles of his career in a collection of high-concept, densely packed essays.

Both the title and the concept require explanation. As Blanchfield (A Several World, 2014, etc.) explains in the opening “Note,” “a proxy in one sense is a position: a stand-in, an agent, an avatar, a functionary.” It might provide an approximation of an identity, as many of these essays that verge on memoir do, yet it is never exactly the same thing. The essays also offer approximations of sorts, as the author appropriates the concepts and words of others, sometimes in paraphrase, sometimes in direct quote—though he acknowledges, “I decided on a total suppression of recourse to other authoritative sources. I wrote these essays with the internet off.” In other words, he wrote from memory, another dimension of identity, and only afterward checked what he had written against the sources, resulting in a final section titled “Correction,” which, at 20 pages, is longer than any of the essays. Following each essay title is the same subhead, “Permitting Shame, Error and Guilt, Myself the Single Source.” Since the author organizes the essays in the order written, loosely following a chronological progression through his life, he suggests, “whatever development can be tracked may correspond to what might be called a self. They are not the same thing. This is a book braver than I am.” Blanchfield describes himself as “a poet’s poet” who has cobbled together a living through adjunct and visiting poet teaching assignments. His homosexuality caused a rift with his fundamentalist mother, with whom he had been very close, and the broken marriage that bore him had him take a new surname (and identity?) when his stepfather adopted him. He writes plenty about his sexual proclivities and relationships, including the longest and latest one with a former student, but even more about the essence of poetry and the relationship between writer and reader.

Often illuminating and occasionally impenetrable.

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-937658-45-8

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Nightboat Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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