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Goat Funeral: Poems Paperback – December 11, 2006
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"When Virginia Woolf went to Greece in 1906, she felt that 'all lumps in the earth here are but so much dust heaped negligently over some well-ordered temple or statue beneath.' Identical treasure is inherent in the heroic soil for Christopher Bakken; this poet is nurtured by lithic yield: 'Here I believe in stone, existence in the flesh...' And with all the power of a burial that is yet a parturition, his book reads as a kind of tephromancy, a divination by ashes: 'Since the earth is god I am not dust but god.' It is not 'questions of travel,' or even the effects of an affinity these luminous poems afford, but a lasting procession. There is no 'after Greece,' nothing subsequent: the dust and what is beneath it are present forever in the poet's mouth." - Richard Howard"
“This is the best second book of poems I’ve read in a decade. Of course a certain bloom or glamour (or is it transparency?) is off, but the verse is requited by richer (fallen?) harmonies. Contours are Apollonian as in After Greece, but the poet knows now that vision, like flesh, is fleeting, even fled, and his assurance blurs, the amber clouds; hence “those moments / of clarifying emptiness / toward which we must steer, the swerve from.” Clearly Bakken has already embarked, with this subsequent (but not subaltern) inspection of his cherished Hellenic adequacies (“So many islands, so much blessed salt, / this feast we could not finish by ourselves”), on an ardent if sometimes arduous odyssey. In poetry of this order—so luminous, yet so willing to be lost: “each switchback leads us deeper in”—peregrination itself will be a march of triumph. No captives.” (Richard Howard)
“Christopher Bakken is using all kinds of poetic arms to convey a complex, ambivalent vision spun between the joy of an afternoon in Greece and the dying of a cat. This is an admirable, rich collection of poems.” (Adam Zagajewski)
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Bakken can (and should) be considered a formal poet--one of the best, in fact. Here is a poet at ease with form as Richard Wilbur, and as intimate; as musical as Donald Justice, and often, with better instruments. His range is formidable, and his poems can be philosophical even as they lunge spectacularly into motion, as in "Eclogue 5," "while we chatter on with our symmetries / and cornball crap, plotting ditsy dithyrambs, / the statues might hurdle from their plinths / into combat. Angry as men, invisible as men" or later, in "Last Words from Elpenor"--one of a dozen or so near-perfect sonnets--"sailor, you too will lose your famous grip. / Before you go, chuck me a single oar. / May I be cool beneath these sycamores."
Those already familiar with his work will see the exuberance of his first collection tempered by experience, but the fires of those early poems no less doused. Here, the heat is caught in low embers that flare into points of brilliance, such as in the title poem: "it was for her the animal inside me / rose from its lair, shook off its winter sleep, / and I took her in my arms, and stoked the fire, / and helped her burn."
Readers old and new will see a young poet becoming much more than his early work promised. In the "Duet" poems with Fernando Pessoa, Czeslaw Milosz, and Bill Matthews, Bakken recognizes his indebtedness to these men, even as he holds his own. It is this balance between exuberance and experience that makes this collection a must read. Buy it and see a young poet at his best, with his eye and ear already turned towards something more.