A review of
by Donald Revell
Donald Revell’s spectacular new-and-selected amounts to three very good poetry books for the price of one—the first by a dejected urbanite who thinks he’s watching America, and his own private life, slowly collapse; one by a maker of puzzles, mazes, and spells; and one by an open-hearted, charitable, mystically inclined father, husband, and Christian believer who cherishes southern Nevada. I’d recommend any of those three on their own; the trio is irresistible.
Revell spent his early years watching urban decline; born in the Bronx, he attended graduate school in Buffalo, where he wrote about John Milton and John Ashbery. The Gaza of Winter (1988) reflected the elaborate syntax of those authors; the gloomy tenor of the Reagan-era Rust Belt; and an unmatched skill with consecutive abstractions. “Birthplace” called the Bronx “A place to be used, impossible really to love/ except as a thing survived, a scar.” The same poem made its neighborhoods an index for much larger disappointments: “These metal awnings,/ these Virgins tilting beside the failed trees and ashcans,” Revell’s verse argued, “pronounce the end of an idea: that people,// given the raw materials and time,/ will shape a place to their needs.”
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