G. E. Schwartz / Review
PURSUIT: by Karen Neuberg, Kelsay Books Inc. (2019)
80 pages: $16.00
The epigraphs to a poetry collection are a good place to judge its seriousness. I always have a fondness for those that mix high culture and low: Doctor Faustus and the Vengaboys, William Carlos Williams and Bruce Springsteen. Karen Nuberg’s new collection has two: Virginia Woolf and Alice Notely.
Serious whole cloth, then. Committed. Not afraid to invoke the essentials of our canon.
Then turn the page and receive the first offering, “Aesthetics”. Not just poetry, but admonition — to “Leer,/ show teeth-/ or budge that fat ass/ click your doudy heels;/ pyrotechnics turn a mirror/ to a moon.” --a slice of life, like a saucy message channeled from the ancients.
To read these poems is to be instantly, wondrously infected with perplexity. These poems make us look for what, inside language, we may have not necessarily known what we are looking for. In each poem, precariously poised as Neuberg is between syntactical newness and each free act of the mind, she purges us out of our anticipation of what the creative act is. Thus, as in the same manner as Susan Howe, John Ashbury and Barbara Guest, poetries of vibrance, meditation and great music, Neuberg’s poetry reveals itself behind the multiple (and often embedded) levels that reality for her, from one poem to the next, takes on. This is how we find a poet writing always amid the flash point of creation and re-creation, identity and non-identity, a poetry testing itself perilously at the frontiers of both verbal experiment and perception.
The door to the endless (quoting in full):
Is closing! Must run!
Will I? Won’t I?
Quick enough to measure.
I rush to keep what’s left
Of what’s leaving.
Neuberg’s words cascade from night branches straight into our weltered bedclothes, each phrase a bobbling surprise, light and dark and more astonishment, and at times hilarious too, until all a day-dreaming and lucid dreaming are tucked in snug.
The poems never lose the intensity of personal speech, never take on another voice or mask, but they also touch on the existence, both positive and sometimes fraught, of our lives, the things we shy away from and hate to revisit. Regrets. The hard business of living. The Finite. And Faith. They remind me throughout of Colette’s advice to a young writer: “Look for a long time at what pleases you, and longer still at what pains you.”
They are worthy of a good long look.