Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Norman Finkelstein: Scribe

Scribe, Norman Finkelstein (Dos Madres, 2009)

Finkelstein’s last full-length volume, Passing Over (Marsh Hawk, 2007), was something of a digression for those of us watching the growth & progression of his career, consisting as it did of poems for the most part composed before the 3 volumes of his simultaneously rich & spare sequence Track. Scribe, his first real post-Track collection, marks the moment when one can clearly begin setting Finkelstein in the same rank as his self-proclaimed masters, among them William Bronk, Robert Duncan, and Michael Palmer (who contributes a fine blurb). This is a volume for which blustery superlatives seem inappropriate, for the pleasures & mysteries of these poems are subtle, insinuative ones – the riddling, ritualistic anabasis of “Drones and Chants” (the volume’s first section), the quirky assemblages of “Collages, which draw on everything from fairy tales to Jewish mysticism to celtic ballads.

The real heart of the volume is the last section, “An Assembly,” a series of poems playing off of the architect Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (1977), something of a “generative grammar” for the design of humanized living spaces. Finkelstein takes Alexander’s descriptions of various habitant spheres – the marriage bed, the sidewalk cafĂ©, the spiritual center – as jumping-off points for poems that are quiet and lovely meditations on the places in which we lead – or ought to lead – our lives. And the physical spaces of which Alexander writes – rooms, houses, halls, arcades – become in Finkelstein’s hands a series of metaphorical spaces: the space of consciousness, the interpersonal space of a marriage, the shifting and interlocking spaces of the poems themselves, in their sequence. “An Awakening” is a mysterious but deeply good-natured work, and – like so much of Finkelstein’s poetry, which has never surrendered the Romantic vision of poetry as ultimately redemptive – a deeply utopian one.


1 comment:

tyrone said...


Not entirely accurate timeline: some of the poems in Scribe are pre-Track and, I believe, some of the poems in Passing Over were written "during" the composition of the three volumes of Track. But my initial reading last night confirms your general assessment..