Dedicated to her late husband, the actor David Dukes, Muske-Dukes's seventh collection of poems follows Married to the Icepick Killer: A Poet in Hollywood (a collection of critical and autobiographical essays) and the novel Life After Death, and is devoted to poems of mourning. As with Donald Hall's Without or Ted Hughes's The Birthday Letters, the poems can vary widely in quality, and are best read as if constantly moving between verse memoir and poetry, with real people standing behind the poems' personae. And that is particularly apt here, as many of the poems knowingly engage Dukes's profession-"You give me up/ You go away/ You walk on a stage/ and are re-made." Coming almost exclusively in quatrains, tercets and distichs, these 43 short lyrics are suffused with remembrances of daily married life, of "[h]ow we ate together, slept together, sank/ into the distraction of distraction. Twenty years." Longing and grief produce concentrated moments of terse, wry observations on grief ("Death was a critic, like me./ Death could never be the actor-"; "everyone, Catullus,// I mean everyone, tells her to shut the fuck up") and grasped-for metaphor: "the shadow of the parachute of/ my desire, this rip-cord of your photo-/ blink." The best poems capture the darkly ambiguous ruminations of a partner left behind, with an imagination has been turned upside down. In "A Private Matter" the speaker flits through the characters her husband still embodies in video images, but can't quite insert herself: "Serge cries, `Red Seneca!' Laura is alone/ in the space station, weeping. I am not weeping./ I am emptying my pockets of my own monologues." It is a process that, often enough, readers will find tensely drawn and heartbreaking.
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Advance praise for Sparrow
“Marriage is a pact with an other both beloved and unknowable—and loss, therefore, means losing both what we know and what we can never circumscribe. Sparrow is a stunning elegy for the actor David Dukes, but like all great poetry, it reaches beyond the specifics of a life, or a death. In poems haunted by Lear and Godot, Catullus and Oscar Wilde, a chorus of shades, art’s animating phantoms, ghost this brooding, loving book into startling life.” —Mark Doty
“A private matter Sparrow may invoke, but it reaches to the center of so much loss—personal and public.” —Adrienne Rich
“Sparrow is an act of retrieval, a way of reviving David Dukes through memory. The lines of the poems are, in effect, life-lines, and within them he is brought back into a second life, one that will last.” —Mark Strand
“Sparrow is a powerful, compelling journey from the loss of a personal paradise to the regaining that follows. Carol Muske-Dukes shows us how grief can be stabilized by craft and sense brought to bear on anguish, one careful line of poetry at a time.” —Billy Collins
Praise for Carol Muske-Dukes
“[In Red Trousseau] Carol Muske-Dukes achieves the insight, emotional accuracy, and terrifying sureness of moral discernment she has always sought. She surveys human relations with an acid clairvoyance through which the reckless currents of personal and cultural history course, ripping away all but the essential tones of the human conversation.” —Jorie Graham
“[An Octave Above Thunder] is poetry of beauty and integrity that tells the truth of art.” —The Nation
“[Carol Muske-Dukes is] that wonderful rare thing: a poet who has the ability to deepen the secrets of experience even while revealing them.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.