Those aren't stars, darling
That's your nervous system
Nanna didn't take you to planetariums like this
--from "Hyper-Berceuse: 3 A.M."
August Kleinzahler's new poems stretch and go places he has never gone before: they have his signature high color and rhythmic jump, but they take on a breadth of voice and achieve registers that his earlier work only hinted at. Ranging from Vegas and Mayfair to the Asian steppes and contemporary Berlin, these poems touch down at will in tableaux where Liberace unceremoniously meets with St. Kevin and Attila with Zsa Zsa Gabor. Surprise after surprise, nothing seems to lie outside Kleinzahler's purview.
This is the strongest collection to date from a poet with "the vision and confident skill to make American poetry new" (Clive Wilmer, The Times [London]).
In Kleinzahler's first since his 2000 selected, Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club, brain surgery, an "old poet, dying," fighter planes, Andres Segovia and "a computer-generated Weimaraner" stand among the grand array of metaphors, objects and offhand stories that make this volume his most coherent and most thoroughly enjoyable to date. The title promises poems set all over the world; the New Jersey bred poet obliges with landscape poems set in Germany, Texas, New England and "the snowy passes of the Carpathians," where the poet follows a Mongol horde. Kleinzahler is also a jazz critic; in the ambitious five-part "A History of Western Music" he shows himself at home with classical works but fascinated by popular performers from Liberace to June and the Exit Wounds. A series of poems adapted from Horace proves less complicated but almost compulsively quotable: one advises against "daydreaming" ambitions, concluding: "The weather here stinks, and neither of these girls is for you." Kleinzahler can leap, within a few lines, from science-speak ("collateral sulcus") to tough-guy talk ("Murph lent me his putty knife"); that code-switching range, along with his set of personae, add up to poem after poem nobody else could have written, despite their similarity to each other. Readers attracted to Kleinzahler's distant Beat forebears should appreciate the ambling free verse gleaned from urban strolls, while those who seek more ambitious work will find it in his meditations on music and art: "even the painter," he concludes, "must be destroyed/ in order that we may become the paint."