A review of


by Robyn Schiff

Central question: Are we the things we like? Or the things we own?
Format: 84 pp., paperback; Size: 8" x 6"; Price: $16.00; Publisher: University of Iowa Press; Among the manufacturers, brands, and labels mentioned: Colt, Taylor & Sons, Hoffman-LaRoche, Glock, Porsche, Rite Aid, Woolworth; Representative lines: “Obliteration is an // opportunity. I was thinking this the other day / over cocktails at the Palmer House in downtown / Chicago; designed after the Great Fire, / the ceiling of its // barbershop was tiled with silver dollars / that flash inwardly when customers close their eyes / like the first symptoms of the kind of migraine / that makes you pull onto the shoulder // of the road and put your head down on the steering wheel.”

Schiff is a poet who writes about well-made things—the eponymous Colt revolver, steamship furniture, a designer dress. Her poems are themselves well made, and uncommonly elaborate, things: they ask why, and when, we enjoy such qualities as they admire—elaboration, complication, flourishes, and virtuoso details.

All her poems describe things, but none describes just one; rather, they skate across uncommon associations. “Project Paperclip” moves from the eponymous government program (which brought Nazi rocket scientists to the U.S.) to German folk-art drinking glasses “in the shape of a / horn, a stag… a penis / or a boot,” to the legendary Chinese man who tried to visit the moon in a floating chair, to the Asian Longhorned Beetle (which hollows out wood), to The Amityville Horror, to “a silk peasant blouse that throws its purple // silk light back at the moon it came from,” first sold on or around September 11, 2001. One of the pleasures in reading the poem lies in seeing how she gets from one thing to the next—and how they all come together by the end.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Stephen Burt

Stephen Burt teaches at Harvard. His book of essays on contemporary poets, Close Calls with Nonsense, will appear in spring 2009; another book of criticism, The Forms of Youth, is out now.

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