LIFE SUPPORTS: New and Collected Poems by William Bronk

LIFE SUPPORTS: New and Collected Poems

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Of the many later poets deeply influenced by Wallace Stevens, few have chosen to soak up Stevens' discourse (the world as Supreme Fiction) instead of his gaudiness. One who did, though, was William Bronk--and in nine impressive, under-appreciated books, he has steadily sought to express the bewilderments and impossibilities of knowledge. ""We open our eyes and feel our way in the dark,"" an early poem notes, only to find, as do young birds, that ""the empty air sustains."" And ""the empty air"" has sustained Bronk with remarkable buoyancy, keeping him abob on paradox: ""We watch to see our lives come true""--yet ""The universe is large: to be eccentric is to be/nothing."" His meditations most often seem like cadenced addresses to rather than about the self-sufficient world (which ignores us); they are inspired by history (especially the Mayans), physics, or algebra (""We invent/the terms that say we wish we knew""). But being perhaps the foremost American poet of philosophical skepticism also brings difficulties. ""Predicate is predicate: a lie./I leave off that lie."" Thus a Bronk poem from the Fifties is superficially little different from one of the Eighties; there is no early or late Bronk style, since the essential question asked--""What do we know of an outer world?""--can't be answered nor made to go away. Still, there are topographies here, highs and lows. The poems of the Seventies collections like That Tantalus and To Praise the Music are repeatedly poignant with a 50-year-old's sudden love: ungainly, squall-like ardor. The quality then dips, with increasingly short poems in which Bronk's staccato fusillade of small abstract words (be, is, will, love, look, here, want) finally add up to a rather sterile pithiness: the pessimism congratulates itself a mite too heartily. But the last and newest poems here rise once more: the same poet, the same man, but with more intricate control of a knife-like voice separating wishfulness from world. ""Rational Knowledge,"" ""Weathers We Live In,"" and ""At the Theater II"" are resonant works, as forward as they are faithful to Bronk's whole and defined opus--that of one of the most solid and unfrivolous contemporary poets.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: North Point Press