Work Done Well and Right
Three New Poetry Volumes from the Southwest
By Don McIver
Though not a densely populated publishing Mecca like the Northeast, the Southwest is home to many small presses whose work is every bit as impressive. Tucson's University of Arizona Press recently released two ambitious, carefully crafted books of poetry: Margo Tamez's Naked Wanting (University of Arizona Press, paper, $15.95) and David Dominguez's Work Done Right (University of Arizona Press, paper, $15.95). Likewise, Albuquerque's La Alameda Press has released Michael Rothenberg's Unhurried Vision (La Alameda Press, paper, $16). This trio of books showcases the publishers' ability to produce well-crafted and beautifully designed books.
Set against the backdrop of Arizona and California, both Naked Wanting and Work Done Right take the seemingly mundane and elevate it to the poetic. For example, Margo Tamez's "On the Wing" is rooted in the world of motherhood. Every act becomes spiritual. She writes, "I'm hanging laundry in autumn ... Tonight I'm praying for the buffalo. ... " Tamez is precise in her language. While not deliberately tackling "big" subjects, her poems show a depth of understanding and appreciation of life in all its complexity.
Likewise, David Dominguez's Work Done Right is a series of narrative poems that highlight the personal dignity of the narrator, Abraham, and his time at "Galdini Sausage," a sausage factory. Dominguez's poem entitled "Oxtail Stew" opens with "At five o'clock in the morning, / I walked to work and passed the green ponds / of Horizon Park where the last bluegill, / caught on the low, slight bank / panted hard in dark mud ... ," lines so beautiful that I had to disappear into a quiet room and read it out loud—twice. Both books succeed in humanizing and poeticizing the mundane aspects of living in the arid Southwest.
Michael Rothenberg's Unhurried Vision is, in its way, both simpler and more complex. The poems are taken from a daily journal, and many of them read like condensed and crafted journal entries from the year 1999. Many of them reflect, reference and/or mention his friend the Beat poet Philip Whalen, whose work no doubt influences Rothenberg's.
Rothenberg's poems also reveal the profundity of the seemingly mundane. For example, in "April 14/War Poem," he writes, "Move in closer / Your dreams are for sale / The green curry chicken / Halibut in garlic sauce will save the day. ... " Many of the poems deal directly with his getting Philip Whalen's things in order. (Whalen died in 2002 after battling a terminal illness.)
Whether it is through the quirky, crafted casualness of Rothenberg's writing, or the more deliberate construction of "Poems" in Margo Tamez's work, or even the linear, narrative structure Dominguez's work, all three books would make fine additions to anybody's poetry library.
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