SPIRIT MACHINES by Robert Crawford


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Young Scottish author Crawford holds the pleasantly rakish opinion that modern poetry begins with a hoax: namely, the bombastic but engrossing fragments of Ossian, invented in 1765 by another Scottish poet, James McPherson. Crawford’s fourth collection is somewhat lower-key. In these restrained poems, he practices what he calls an —informationalist aesthetic—: a kind of writing that subsists at degree zero, minus the experimental aura that phrase implies. Not unlike Paul Muldoon’s hyper- referential poems (or for that matter those of high-modernists from Ezra Pound to David Jones), Crawford’s pieces cover themselves in proper names so as to have something to talk about—and to show credentials to the reader. But where Muldoon clowns and the modernists are serious, Crawford is mild, ending his poems with words like “calm,” “stone,” “light”; vanishing is a recurring motif. “Impossibility,” a long poem about 19th-century writer Mrs. Oliphant, brims with eccentric disappointments (“Caravans of beasts cross the sea floor / Battling; there should be more tomes like Forbes’s / History of British Starfishes”), but these may not be enough to shake the objection that it’s an academic poem and not much else. Recalling his bank-manager father’s habit of shooting rabbits from an office window, though, Crawford is capable of suddenly offering some real excitements (“customers / Jumping at the ‘whump!’ behind yon hardwood door”). Wait for the inevitable selected poems.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-224-05901-7
Page count: 68pp
Publisher: Jonathan Cape/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1999