Friday, May 02, 2008

The Changing Face(s) of Black Sparrow Books

David R. Godine now uses the imprint for Black Sparrow (, with a poetry publishing corner that's somehow snugged up against the rest of his gorgeous books. Reliably well designed, with elegant pages and sturdy bindings, Godine's creations are a good sequel to John Martin's West Coast line.

New from the press is METROPOLITAN TANG by Linda Bamber, whose poetry and fiction have been widely published. This is her first collection, and it's full of urban portraits and sensory appeal. The opening of the title poem, "Metropolitan Tang," gives a good sense of the wide-eyed enthusiasm here:

Across the street
in the green-signed Alamo/National lot
a Greek Orthodox priest has just exchanged his high black
hat for a close-fitting beanie;
hugged a man in a purple parka
and driven off in sunglasses
flowing beard and robes.

I like that!
I like living someplace
people come!
bringing their beliefs.

Bamber's urban existence is occasionally punctuated by trips into the countryside, like the one with a woman friend that becomes a poem in memory of Grace, presumably Paley, and a poignant clinging to friendship: "The best writer living in America today," Bamber reports, "may well be a woman; but she won't be that / much longer, because, you told me then, / she's dying." Summer meadows are backed by winter cities; warm friendship by chilling death. Long views can be distressing, short ones sweet and even amorous.

In "Homage to Frank O'Hara" this university teacher of poetry and Shakespeare braids Thich Nhat Hanh, her own mother, and the New York School poet:

had lots of friends
and was always reading something choice.
His bed floated on a sea of books
into which
he trailed his hand when he woke up

for something to stay conscious for.

In fact, Godine's web site offers a shared compliment to O'Hara and Banber at once, from Tony Hoagland, who read the book in manuscript and continues to delight in it: "As a reader I have often wished, over the years, for a female poet in the style of [Frank] O'Hara: bopping but sincere, humanistic and grounded but exuberant and irreverent. Linda Bamber may be that person," he wrote.

I like in particular Bamber's swan dives into that sea of literature, splashy and bright: "Ulysses came home, and things got better," is the opening for her "Penelope." And she darts among ordinary moments of teaching, making love, and answering the phone, taking each one observantly and with gusts of laughter, sweeps of pleasure, dollops of irritation and realization.

Is she today's Frank O'Hara? Hmm. Worth reading again, thinking about that -- or not thinking about it at all, just enjoying this bright fresh collection. Thanks, DRG.

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