TAKE MY WORD FOR IT by Nina Cassian


Email this review


Like Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz before her, Cassian, who achieved prominence in her native Romanian, has now written her first poems in English, and the result is a mixed delight: playful and nonsensical, drunk with —the magic alcohol of words,— Cassian includes too many bits of pure whimsy, hermetic and trivial little poems that deliberately avoid meaning. At best, her deliriously surreal verse captures the spirit of Lear, Lewis Carroll, and Ogden Nash, full of trippy puns and tonic sonorities that test the limits of language. She invents a pure sound language (—Sparga—) in which she writes —Four Bilingual Untranslatable Poems,— each a Poundian tone poem articulated by a tongue forked with —bilingual hissing.— Everywhere the anarchic Cassian implores us to —get dizzy/ on the fragrance— of her flesh. And her poems are full of sensuous detail: in —Indigo,— she immerses herself in color; in —Remember,— she’s buried alive by a lover’s body; and in —Singing and Barking,— she attests to another lover’s expertise at —breast lifting.— Bemoaning old age, she also chronicles —the heyday— of her —decline,— apologizing for the excesses of this volume. A Nash-like ditty, —Hypothesis,— explores the most basic rhymes, and —Yucatan— riffs on its title. Cassian’s hard- earned celebration of herself records her herculean struggle with English, with its misleading sounds and woozy syntax. Cassian’s best poems recall the wild language lessons of her fellow Romanian’s play, The Bald Soprano, which is no mean accomplishment for a first volume in English.

Pub Date: July 27th, 1998
ISBN: 0-393-04654-0
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998