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Tom Lux is the best-kept secret in American Poetry.
Has reading poetry ever poetry frustrated you? Were you taught poetry is some kind of impressive sounding puzzle only a specialist could understand? Well, you must read "New and Selected Poems 1975-1995", because these poems will confound your experience with boring, academic or overly allusive verse. To "get" these poems, you won't need an overpaid theorist to explain them to you, all you need is your experience as an every-day human being.
It's the poet's job to bring the poems alive, make them clear, and engage the reader, and Lux does all this with verve. The subjects of the poems are wide ranging, (as skimming the above list of titles will reveal) but Lux never shallowly uses a subject for its shock value; all the poems honestly and intently explore. The diction is sharply focused, the metaphor surprising, and the sound harmonious and pleasant to read (yes you will actually enjoy saying the poems), but the key to Thomas Lux's poetry is the voice, the resonant from-your-chest, angry, needling, amused, serious, tender and wry voice.
But here I am, telling you what the poetry is like, not what why its valuable.
You should read this book, aloud and often: its music will please your mouth, the subjects will intrigue you, and the poems as poems, whole utterances, will make you feel very much alive.
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Describing his work, unfortunately, is more difficult than flinging around general superlatives. Often weird subject matter which nonetheless hooks into the same stuff we're all feeling: check. Unexpected vocabulary: check. But those features might be thought to equal only novelty (or at best a quirky vision appreciated only by a few isolated fellow nutcases) if it weren't for all the other stuff.
Other stuff. There's the voice, which you couldn't mistake in a thousand; in a period when an awful lot of poets sound an awful lot alike, Lux's voice is distinctive. (I'm not making this up.) That whole James-Wright-minor-melancholy tone that's so prevalent in folks coming out of workshops is absent in his poems, though it's not hard to see that Wright was an influence some way back. And there's the craft; Lux's line breaks are thought out in a way that too many poets' don't seem to be, and he manages formal verse as handily as free. (I think I'm quoting Lewis Turco when I remark that free verse isn't; and Lux knows it.) And there's the specificity which characterizes all good poets: to quote one of my favorites (from *Half-Promised Land*), "Yes!--it does, it does feel exactly fine/ crawling ashore, emptying the boots of water, and frankly/ here's to the clouds the color of bone,/ here's to the indecipherable path home,/ here's to the worm's sweat in the loam..."
See what I mean? That's sufficiently specific to crack your eardrum, with not an abstraction in the lot; and it is, believe it or not, formal verse (I read a Lux sestina without realizing what it was for at least four stanzas). And it's strange enough to make you laugh, a function which distracts you from noticing it's sufficiently (and simultaneously) poignant and celebratory to hook out your liver, a pang you notice just too late to forestall it. (Speaking of livers, there's a poem in *The Street of Clocks* with a lucky vulture in it. Now you know you can't pass that up.) And you can't imagine anyone else putting it just the way Lux does, but you know just what it means, and it makes you feel, in fact, at home. Right here. Seriously, folks, this stuff is good, and it's accessible, and people who hate poetry often like it anyhow. Buy it early and often.
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You (as well as I) will be impressed with how the author takes ordinary things we see and experience in life and turns them into profound reflections. The ordinary is transformed into the extra-ordinary. His use of words calls us to attention of the familiar and demands that we move beyond the surface of what we see.
Shoveling snow, seedy motels, swingsets, donuts and shoveling snow are the varied themes covered in this volume. What in the world do these common place things have in common? Certainly they can't hold any meaning. Think so? Thomas Lux will put you to the challenge. He is serious, playful, introspective and playful in poking fun at human foilbles. Come along the poetic journey with him in the drowned river.
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