The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 16, 2009

Jonathan Galassi On August Kleinzahler

August This year for National Poetry Month, FSG Publisher Jonathan Galassi has agreed to say a few words about our upcoming poetry collections. You can expect his comments here every Tuesday and Thursday for the rest of the month.

August Kleinazhler’s new and selected poems SLEEPING IT OFF IN RAPID CITY, which won the National Book Critics Circle award in poetry this year, has just been issued in paperback. King Augie, as I like to think of him, is the undisputed master of a region of American poetry that is all his own. He grew up in New Jersey and he talks out of the side of his mouth in a tender, ironic idiom that melds classic movie dialogue and the lyricism of his old neighbor William Carlos Williams. One of his early, radically exciting books was titled STORM OVER HACKENSACK. (Other titles include RED SAUCE, WHISKEY AND SNOW and GREEN SEES THINGS IN WAVES, which suggests the peculiar admixture of gnarly vernacular expression and razor-sharp poetic intelligence that has made him the monarch of his own boundless place.

Augie long ago left New Jersey for that other epicenter of American poetry, San Francisco, spiritual home of Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Kenneth Rexroth and Augie’s own bosom buddy Thom Gunn.
(I should mention that he is also the author of an unforgettable memoir, CUTTY, ONE ROCK.) His poetry is of these places—what he defines as "The dead solid center of the universe / At the heart of the heart of America.” What moves me most about his distinguished, arousing, alert-making work, is how right it always is in what it does and doesn’t say, how economical, how wise, how accurate in emotion. It’s devastating, and exhilarating.

Blue at 4 a.m.
The burnish of late afternoons
as winter ends—
this sadness coming in on waves is not round 
and sweet
as the doleful cello
but jagged, intent
finding out places to get through the way wind
tries seams
and cracks of the old house, making
the furnace kick on
or the way his trumpet
through cloud and paradise shoal, nosing
out the dark fillet
to tear apart and drink his own


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