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Abandoned Quarry: New and Selected Poems
Abandoned Quarry: New and Selected Poems
John Lane
Mercer University Press, 2011
169 pp., $20.00

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Riffraff: Poems (LSU Press Paperback Original)
Riffraff: Poems (LSU Press Paperback Original)
Stephen Cushman
LSU Press, 2011
80 pp., $16.95

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Richard Gibson


Poets Landscaping

John Lane and Stephen Cushman.

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Although salient features of both books, these landscape poems represent only one feature in their variegated topographies. Lane's evolving relationship with a troubled family history crops up repeatedly in his book; particularly striking in this regard are The Dead Father Poems, in which he entertains his father's ghost. If there is a must-read poem in the book, it is "Against Information," in which long Ginsbergian lines offer a rollicking critique of a host of modern fetishes. The two poets Lane mentions most frequently are Blake and, as noted above, Whitman, and their influence can be detected in the prophetic and colloquial strains that give such richness to Lane's voice throughout Abandoned Quarry.

In addition to landscape, Cushman's wry, epigrammatic style accommodates topics as various as life in a busy household, the body's aging, places elegant (the French countryside) and inelegant (a Parkinson's clinic), and language itself ("Ways People Wake," a list, and "Unspoken Agreement," musings on language and brain activity, are must reads on this front). As in Cushman's earlier two books of poems, Cussing Lesson and Blue Pajamas, this collection also offers us spiritual contemplation in poems like "Aramaic in Sednaya," in which hearing an old nun praying "in her savior's native tongue" transforms the speaker's experience of the surrounding landscape: "the desert become / anything but desolate." Lane's and Cushman's collections are linked in their mutual fascination with such moments, where perception of a place or thing profoundly shifts. Looking up from reading these books, you may find yourself making your own unexpected discoveries of fullness, whether in an overlooked spot or in an object that had previously seemed useless, the merest riffraff.

Richard Gibson is assistant professor of English at Wheaton College.


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