This Way Out (Carmine Starnino)

My joke, when I’m asked why I don’t write poetry about my feelings, is that as a straight, white male, aged 18-35, I feel my life is adequately represented in the culture. Starnino’s one of the cats out there, writing about his (my?) feelings, and excusing me from doing so. I’m not a fan of Starnino’s but he’s a strong poet by any standards and although his performance at the so-called “Poetry Cage Match” was uninspiring at best, I was impressed by his poem “Our Butcher” — when he read it you could hear the meat being chopped.

There are few surprises in this book: it’s a solid, well-crafted selection of poetry about the usual topics. Whatever you think about the man, it’s clear that his poetry is a step above the common poet’s. If it’s straightforward, conventional poetry you’re after, you could do a lot worse than seek out Starnino, who’s a true craftsman in many respects. One poem, though, stands out above the rest. In its structure, it bears more than a passing resemblance to experimentalist work (or whatever you want to call it). Here’s an excerpt of “Heavenography”:

Working-class clouds make tracks over the working class. Working-class clouds take turns taking down directions, try to read back what they wrote, but can’t. Working-class clouds are tripping, sensing just how high up they are. Working-class clouds are a thousand tons of returned rain freshly painted and set upright to dry. Working-class clouds are breeze-fed flocs, hardly anything, whathaveyous, an idea in trial and error, one-of-a-kind demos.

I wish Starnino would spend more time writing poems like this, where he puts his ear and his pen to work on something more formally inventive than a sonnet. While I appreciate a solid collection of poetry like this one, I think it’s time for Starnino to take some risks. This book dips a toe into the river, and I hope the next book dives.

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