Sunday, March 08, 2009

Joseph Donahue: Before Creation

Before Creation, Joseph Donahue (Central Park Editions, 1989)

I try not to lend books myself; my own copy of Joseph Donahue's first book, I admit with only a little shame, actually belongs to my grad school friend Patty Chu, lent to me more years ago than I care to admit. She's not gettting it back, I'm afraid. So I've known Joe's work a deal longer than I've known Joe himself. There're some great short poems in here (I'm partial to "Lou Reed" & "Adam, In Hell") but the standouts are the long, multi-part pieces like "Transfigurations" & "Crania Americana," in which you can see Donahue's characteristic limpid mysticism beginning to emerge from a more familiar, more ordinary "American Surrealism." "Purple Ritual" is a gripping collision of childhood memories of growing up in Texas, the poet's early observations of President Kennedy, and an imagining of Lee Harvey Oswald strangely conflated with the singer Orpheus: the JFK assassination, perhaps the nearest recent history gets to real live Greek tragedy, a persistent textual ghost haunting much of Before Creation.


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