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Utopic Paperback – July 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Picking up questions that dominated her last collection, The Secularist, Keelan's third and most ambitious book puts the propulsively fragmentary lyricism that marked her previous work in the service of a grand political program. Proceeding from "My Twentieth Century" through sequences inspired by the life and words of Martin Luther King, the book moves on to a concluding series of short poems, each named after a toolA"Knife," "Oar"Aand (Keelan writes) inspired by Gandhi. Keelan seems to hope, as her brief afterword notes, to use her torqued, cut-up, evasive phrases as tropes for political solidarity: just as the phrases themselves don't make sense without one another, people can't make social change without standing together: "The language I knows/ commits errors knowingly.... The remedy lies in readers." If the method seems an overly synthetic adaptation of Language poetry, the execution, with stops at the '90s workshop, doesn't quite come off. Scraps and half-built structures whirl in the winds of change, seeking historical moments in which to make their mark: "time's on your side but nothing else," she declares, writing of "Jiffy Lube, poetry,/ calligraphy of present and past." The sequence "Bluff City" borrows its authority, its cadences and some of its sentences from King's writings, but filters them through a stylized sensibility that wants "To extend lyric// to exclude the gaps"Aeven if "There is no safety in saying." While different in method and level of critique from poets like Peter Dale Scott, Keelan's earnest engagements are energetic and admirable. (Nov.)
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About the Author

The author of three previous prize-winning collections of poetry, most recently Utopic, Claudia Keelan teaches in the MFA and Ph.D. programs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and is the editor of Interim.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Alice James Books; 1st edition (July 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1882295285
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882295289
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,586,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Paula Koneazny on May 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
The desert enters Keelan's poems not so much as heat but as dryness, the clarifying aridity of the prophet wandering the desert in sackcloth, beating upon his hand drum and clacking his finger cymbals. Keelan's refusal to seduce her readers may seem at first to be a rebuff. Her poems, at first reading, may seem too difficult, too hermetic, too much of mind. However, there is music here, albeit percussive. One is well advised to accept the invitation that the poet proffers to her readers in the Notes: "The reader is welcome to sing along in the empty spaces." Although this invitation refers to "Gravity and Grace," I think it is appropriate to many of Keelan's poems. I would suggest, perhaps, a chant. I find that when I chant "Gravity and Grace" out loud the poem begins to open and expand. I then sense the possibility of entering the poem.
Keelan seems to be writing "against" language poetry, although not out of rejection for such poetry; for her, the material of language is not sufficient, however delightful the game. Keelan is a truth-seeker. Language, for her, is an ethical necessity. However, we are faced with "language's irreparable/ backwardness, its continual/ substitution of interpretation/ for perception." Language is "a code losing the ability/ to decode." To avoid these sterile habits of language, the poet must or will step outside the conventions of English. She claims that it is better to "be" true than to "appear" true. Correctness is not what she's after. "Errors" will be committed knowingly in order to sidestep the "domination" of "imitation." The text remains open; the poet leaves gaps for the reader to write in or sing in or think in. For these poems seem to me primarily poems of thought and vision, "In that I had a way of seeing/attached to my feeling.
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