Just In: Word of Navigational Challenges

Just In: Word of Navigational Challenges

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Author: Ed Roberson

Publisher: Talisman House (1998)

Covering work from Roberson's first book, 1970's When Thy King Is a Boy, to recent "work in progress," this volume, as its title suggests, progresses through several modes of poetic address. The early work, just pushing beyond modernism's statelier modes, contains such Prufrockian lines as "and in the countryside the circumstance / adds a spoon of dull explosion to the tea." The middle work is spiritual in tone, and features iconic imagery and spell-like choruses: "turn ambiguity / into separation/ separation into repetition / repetition into chant / turn / turn" he writes in "Formula for the Poem Dance." Other poems are fragment laden and overly ambiguous. The later, more narrative poems are the most successful, putting careful sound-play and full sentences to uses suggesting the Williams of "Asphodel" in pacing his musings. "By The Rivers of . . ." is a historical phantasmagoria: "They live in / a timeless solution of their histories / the living broth of their other / lives, their dead, their brothers / I find / something familial / familiar in these small squares / these boxes buried in the public air."

What makes Roberson's project cohesive is a persistent belief in the reaches of the meditating mind coupled with a serious critique of political realities, qualities that link him to an important sub-tradition of African American literature that includes Nathaniel Mackey and Will Alexander, and to the main project of Talisman House, which is to uncover and rediscover poets writing on the margins. Without question the epitome of the "outsider" poet, Roberson is well discovered, even as this book hints at better work to come.

"Ed Roberson offers us, up front, the nerve-edge of poetic speech, sequences of the unanticipated, as poetry of real significance is meant to do. This generous and much-needed selection graphs the development of a poet committed to the articulation of a resistant, multi-faceted identity. It should affirm his place, at last, as one of the most deeply innovative and critically acute voices of our time." 

–Michael Palmer