Reading, who won the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1990, was the first recipient of the Lannan Foundation Literary Residency—which, for some unstated reason, dumped him in the obscure Texas town of Marfa (pop. 2,474) for what was apparently an unrelievedly grim year. Here, in his 20th collection, he recounts that experience in a series of disconnected images, remembered conversations, newspaper excerpts, and quick flashes ranging from a single line to a dozen. Marfa’s primary claim to fame, such as it is, is that artist Donald Judd bought up a sizeable chunk of land on the edge of it and has turned it into a sort of art park, populated by his own outdoor installations and those of friends and colleagues. Reading, whose tone is condescending and snide throughout, is particularly hard on Judd, whom he perceives as a pretentious interloper. But the poet is no kinder to the locals: they’re invariably depicted as yokels, idiots, and eccentrics. Reading is drawn to the town’s losers—the Burro Lady, who rides about on a mule with all her worldly possessions on it, and a hard-drinking lunatic in a Chevy pickup who’s convinced that the CIA is sending him encrypted messages. But even these poor folks are limned with little sympathy.
A nasty, sour, sullen work, sparked only occasionally by Reading’s descriptions of the geography and geology of the region.